Kolko & Associates, P.C. helps to pave the way for Q-1 Teachers at Language Immersion Schools

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On October 24, 2016, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) issued a policy memorandum announcing that it designated Matter of R-C-C-S-D-, as an Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) adopted decision that binds all USCIS employees.

As the law firm that spent a year and half arguing Matter of R-C-C-S-D-, with USCIS and the AAO, we are very proud that USCIS has taken this rare step of adopting the AAO decision. The decision clarifies and confirms our understanding of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the Q-1 regulations – that a language immersion school may be eligible for designation as a Q-1 international cultural exchange program. By adopting this decision, the agency has bound all USCIS employees to follow the reasoning in the decision, which should lead to greater consistency in adjudications of Q-1 petitions by language immersion programs.

Why is this decision important?

In today’s global economy, fluency in more than one language and an understanding of cultures beyond one’s own is a real asset – both in life and in business. In recognition of this, language immersion schools have become increasingly popular throughout the United States.

Under many language immersion models, students begin their schooling learning both curriculum content (i.e., math, science, literacy) in a language other than English (i.e., Spanish, Mandarin, French or Russian) as early as pre-kindergarten.

As most administrators of language immersion schools will tell you, securing qualified teachers for their classrooms is very challenging. Because language immersion programs require teachers with the target language as their native or mother tongue, a large percentage of the teachers at language immersion schools are foreign nationals.  And, foreign nationals require employment authorization (work visas) in order to be lawfully employed in the United States.

Of course, work visas are hard to come by these days, even for employers seeking qualified teachers to come to the USA and teach in their language immersion school. Due to the annual limit on H-1B specialty occupation visas of 85,000 (65,000 for employees with a Bachelor’s degree and 20,000 for those with a U.S. Master’s Degree), and the high demand for H-1B visas (more than 235,000 applications for the 85,000 visas for Fiscal Year 2017), the H-1B program cannot be the only visa program relied on by U.S. Employers for their staffing needs.

Thus, language immersion schools have historically relied upon a combination of H-1B visas, J-1 cultural exchange visas, and, to a certain extent Q-1 cultural exchange visas in order to bring on qualified teachers to teach the students in their schools.

The Q-1 cultural exchange visitor program allows an approved Q-1 employer to bring over foreign nationals from a specific country for up to 15 months in order to provide practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of their country of nationality.

In order to qualify as a Q-1 program, the international cultural exchange program must 1) be accessible to the American public; 2) contain a cultural component that is an essential and integral part of the foreign national’s employment; and 3) must contain a “work component” that serves as the vehicle to achieve the cultural component.

A reading of the statutory and regulatory requirements for a Q-1 cultural exchange program would suggest that many, if not most, language immersion schools should easily qualify for Q-1 designation. However, over the last decade, adjudications of Q-1 petitions by USCIS have been remarkably inconsistent. Thus, while some language immersion schools have been approved by USCIS and able to successfully bring over foreign nationals on Q-1 cultural exchange visas, other schools have been denied.

We appreciate USCIS’ recognition of the importance of the Q-1 program for language immersion schools and are proud to have had a role in this important decision. We are optimistic that as a result of this adopted decision, we will see an increase in the number of approved Q-1 Cultural Exchange Programs for language immersion schools.

A link to the full adopted decision can be found here: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Laws/Memoranda/2016/PM-602-0138-Matter-of-R-C-C-S-D-2016-04.pdf

For more information on Q-1 International Cultural Exchange Programs, Q-1 visas and Q-1 status, please contact Kolko & Associates, P.C.

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Kolko & Associates is a full service immigration and naturalization law firm providing professional legal services to individuals and businesses throughout Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West, the United States, and the World. Our professional staff speaks English, Spanish, Korean, German, and Slovak, and we can arrange for translators in any other language.