Foreign immersion teachers granted approval to come to Louisiana in August

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

The US administration will give them an exemption from the Presidential Proclamation barring foreign workers from entering the United States

Immersion students at Teche Elementary in Cecilia, Louisiana in 2019.

(Article francophone icitte. / French article here.)

After a wide-reaching effort by the French-speaking community of Louisiana and its allies around the world, the United State Department of State and the Department of Labor will grant exemptions for 70 teachers from France and other countries to receive J-1 work visas in order to teach in Louisiana’s immersion schools during the 2020-21 school year. This group of teachers includes 49 French speakers and 21 Spanish speakers.

“This is a wonderful development accomplished through the hard work of so many people. We are always fortunate to have these teachers in our state, helping connect our students to the rich heritage of the French culture here in Louisiana,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, responsible for Louisiana’s authorities to develop language, culture, recreation and tourism, in a statement released today.

Presidential Proclamation 10014, which prohibits the issuing of new visas through the end of 2020, had endangered the immigration status of 73 foreign immersion teachers. Among them, 49 were contracted to teach in French immersion programs during the academic year that begins in August—as our Editor in Chief Jonathan Olivier recently reported. There are currently more than 5,000 Louisiana students in 28 French immersion programs throughout Louisiana.

Both chambers of the State’s Legislature passed resolutions encouraging federal representatives to work with the Trump administration to provide an exemption to the proclamation. After a wave of citizen inquiries, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette, among others, distributed press releases demonstrating they were working with the administration to resolve the problem—given the importance of immersion for education, culture, and language in Louisiana.

"It's such an essential element to preserving our rich French heritage — a unique characteristic found nowhere else in the country. [And] it's a critical component to driving our economy," said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, in an interview this morning on KVPI’s La Tasse de Café.

North Lewis Elementary in New Iberia, Louisiana in 2019.

After the proclamation was made public, Télé-Louisiane launched an online petition to request exemptions for the teachers. The Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL), the State Department of Education, musician Zachary Richard, the Consulate General of France in Louisiana, and numerous other organizations and individuals explained the severity of the situation to elected representatives of the State and local and international journalists—in particular, by highlighting the potential effects on more than 2,000 of Louisiana’s public schools students. The response from elected officials in Louisiana was fairly quick in the case.

"This victory is a strong demonstration of the dynamism around French education in Louisiana and the solidarity of the Francophone world. Thank you to everyone who mobilized on the ground and those who signed our petition with special gratitude to the Ambassador of France, the Honorable Philippe Étienne for his intervention," wrote Mr. Richard.

Procedures to finalize preparations for the teachers' arrival are expected in the coming weeks, but this week's decision has removed the foreign teachers’ biggest obstacle.

“Thanks to the relentless efforts of a terrific team... people here in Louisiana, including Louisiana's Senators and Representatives, as well as our international partners, notably the French Ambassador, the Honorable Mr. Philippe Étienne... our students in numerous French immersion programs will be able to continue learning in French,” said Peggy Feehan, executive director for CODOFIL.

Sign our petition here to support the exemption for the teachers and to stay in the loop on future efforts to strengthen French language, culture, and education in Louisiana.

Jonathan Olivier contributed editing and writing to this article.

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