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P.G. school system to pay $4.2 million to foreign workers

Settlement bans school system from recruiting foreign workers

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Prince George's County Public Schools have reached an agreement to pay $4.2 million in back wages to more than 1,000 foreign teachers and employees who were illegally required to pay fees the school system should have covered, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.

Initially the school system was also going to be fined $1.7 million but the penalty was reduced to $100,000 as part of negotiations, said Elizabeth Alexander, a Department of Labor spokeswoman.

The school system will also be barred for two years from filing new petitions, requests for extensions or permanent residency requests for foreign employees under any employment-based visa program.

The ban will mean that 256 workers who are due for visa renewal from now through January will not be able to keep their jobs with the school system, said spokesman Briant Coleman.

"Obviously, this is not the outcome we had hoped for as these employees have provided an exceptional service to our school district," Mr. Coleman said in a statement. "PGCPS did everything possible to retain these excellent and valued employees. However, in the final analysis of the current state of our shrinking school budget and mounting legal fees, we determined that we simply could not afford to continue to operate this program."

In 2003, the county school system began recruiting foreign nationals under the H-1B visa program, school officials said.

The school system heavily leaned on foreign recruitment for hard to fill subject areas such as math, science and special education. Many were recruited from the Philippines, specifically through Arrowhead Inc., a recruitment company based on the island nation, school sources said.

When employees were recruited to work for the school system, some of the employees paid fees associated with the program that the county school system should have covered, said the Labor Department. In total 1,044 foreign national employees working for the county school system will be reimbursed for fees they paid.

A school source said the county school system was not adequately advised of the way payments for the program should have been handled and mistakes were made when employees paid fees to expedite their hiring and were not reimbursed.

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