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Texas school district probed over use of visa program in teacher hiring

The federal government is investigating a Texas school district for allegedly exploiting a visa program allowing for the firing of foreign teachers.

According to The Wall Street Journal, officials say the former head of human resources at the  Garland Independent School District, located just outside of Dallas, exploited the H-1B visa program to enrich himself and his associates. The official, Victor Leos, would do so by charging immigrants hefty fees for legal and other services.

In one case, the Journal reports, Leos hired teachers through a recruitment firm in the Philippines. The teachers would pay the district's head of human resources $1,000 for an interview and $5,000 if they were hired. Officials told the Journal that the district was supposed to recruit Spanish-speaking teachers to service the increasing number of Hispanic students in the district. However, in what investigators claim is a sign the program was being misused, the teachers were hired from the Philippines, where Spanish is not the official language. 

The Journal reports that the district employs approximately 200 H-1B visa holders, and it's not clear how many will be eligible for permanent residency, given the circumstances of their hiring.  

Garland is not the only school district accused of abusing the H-1B visa program.

Since 2001, the U.S. Department of Labor has found more than 2,000 H-1B violations by individual schools, districts or boards, agency records show. Over that same period, the Garland district filed 642 H-1B applications, while comparable districts nearby filed fewer than 25.

Maryland's Prince George's County Public Schools was ordered in 2011 to refund $4.2 million to some 1,000 foreign teachers who paid legal fees that should have been covered by the school system. School officials have said they were unaware teachers weren't supposed to pay the fees. The district said it would "fully exhaust all domestic applicant pools" before applying for foreign teacher visas again.

In Louisiana, a group of Filipino teachers sued the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and a recruitment agency in 2010, accusing them of charging them exorbitant fees. The board and the recruitment agency denied any wrongdoing. A jury found the agency guilty of not properly disclosing the fees and awarded the teachers $4.5 million. Allegations against the school board were dismissed.

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