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Live Mic: Trump’s clampdown on immigration will hurt Utah schools, says expert

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SALT LAKE CITY — At the end of June, President Trump expanded an order restricting visas to the U.S. for temporary foreign workers and extends the ban on green cards issued outside the US until the end of the year. The president’s decision will hurt Utah schools, according to a state education specialist.

The order primarily affects H-1B visas, meant for workers with specialized skills, who are heavily sought out by technology companies, and:

  • H-2B visas, for seasonal employees (food-processing workers are exempted);
  • L-1 visas, for corporate executives;
  • and J-1 visas, for scholars and exchange programs, restricting new authorizations through Dec. 31.

Protecting US jobs

Despite opposition from US businesses, President Trump said he expanded the temporary ban on foreign workers to protect American job markets during the economic downturn sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The entry of additional workers through the H-1B, H-2B, J, and L nonimmigrant visa programs, therefore, presents a significant threat to employment opportunities for Americans affected by the extraordinary economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak,” according to the White House.

“In the administration of our Nation’s immigration system, we must remain mindful of the impact of foreign workers on the United States labor market, particularly in the current extraordinary environment of high domestic unemployment and depressed demand for labor,” President Trump wrote in his proclamation.

‘We need teachers’

Robert Austin, humanities team coordinator on the Utah Board of Education, discusses President Trump’s ban and how it impacts Utah’s Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Programs, which relies heavily on a work visa now under suspension. Austin joins Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic.

Austin said students in the program spend half a day learning a second language (Chinese, French, German, Portuguese or Spanish) and the other half learning English. He said that 300 public schools in the state and 63,000 students are enrolled in the program.

“As it [DLI] grows, we need teachers. We scour the country for teachers who are fluent in the language,” Austin said. “You have to be fluent enough to teach mathematical concepts in Portuguese. So it’s not just having a passing language skill.”

Although they search for homegrown talent, Austin said international teachers are necessary to grow the DLI program. He added that every year about 75 teachers from around the world are brought to Utah to teach in the program.

But this year, President Trump’s executive order “stopped it dead in its tracks,” Austin said. He added that he was hoping that there would be included an exemption for teachers, as there was for essential food workers.

Austin said US national security depends on second-language teachers.

“We’ve got to be able to have trade negotiations in Mandarin [Chinese],” he said. “We have to be able to have students and linguists in the Defense Department, in the [US] State Department. And where are they going to come from if we don’t grow those language skills. ”

Austin added he understands the president would want to protect the US jobs market, but the international teachers sought for the program are not competing with Americans for these positions, “otherwise we’d hire them.”

Austin said he hoped a remedy can be found soon for the DLI program because schools are already facing much uncertainty come fall.

“We are trying to get hand sanitizers and facemask. We shouldn’t be stressing over visas,” Lee replied.


Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.