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Teachers Needed School District Keeps Researching Visas

With area school districts often facing teaching shortages, the need for foreign staff members being employed through Visas is becoming more and more part of the solution.

Wolf Point features 18 staff members teaching classes this school year.

“It’s an important part of what we have,” Wolf Point Superintendent of Schools David Perkins said.

Perkins explained that teachers with a J-1 Visa are in the country more for the cultural experience, similar to foreign exchange students. H-1B Visas allow U.S. businesses to employ foreign nationals in specialty occupations.

“J-1s are similar to an exchange student,” Perkins said. “It’s popular with a lot of schools because it doesn’t cost a school district anything. The disadvantage is that they can change schools and you can’t renew it for as long.”

H-1B Visas are specific for employment and are sometimes utilized by health care facilities. The Visas are for three years but can be renewed.

“They have to have a job to get it,” Perkins said of the H-1B. “They can eventually lead to green cards and citizenship.”

Wolf Point will lose at least some current teachers due to Visas expiring at the end of this school year.

“Visas are a godsend, but also a headache,” Perkins explained. “Some of these individuals are really good teachers. It’s a godsend because if you don’t have them, you’re hurting.”

Area schools including Frazer, Poplar and Brockton also depend on foreign teachers to instruct their students.

Perkins said, although it’s more of a cost for school districts, that he prefers the H-1B Visa route because teachers are committed to the specific school. The Visas can be renewed, which means the individuals can stay at the school district for a long time.

“You want continuity,” Perkins noted. “You want teachers to invest in people and the community.”

Perkins has spoken to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s office regarding possible improvements in the Visa process for school districts. Perkins said he has made a good contact at that office, and the superintendent feels Tester will help as much as he can. The challenge, however, is that other countries have their own desired outcome for the program.

Perkins said other countries want to send their residents to the United States for three years and then return back to their native land with the knowledge and experience obtained.

Another way that Wolf Point is looking to overcome the teaching shortage is by attending job fairs at Montana State University in Bozeman. The events are dedicated to hiring people in Montana rather than neighboring states.

“There have been some contacts made. We will go again this spring,” Perkins said.

The school district is also advertising more on the Office of Public Instruction’s Jobs for Teachers site.

“We’re doing more outreach that way,” Perkins said.

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