By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Education Secretary Leonor Briones enjoined all officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) as well school heads and administrators of both public and private schools to “exercise due diligence” particularly involving teachers who participate in exchange programs.
Briones has issue DepEd Memorandum No. 12 series of 2019 to all undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, bureau and service directors, regional directors, schools division superintendents and heads of public and private elementary and secondary schools heads to ensure the “protection of the welfare of Filipino teachers participating in the United States Exchange Visitor Program (EVP).
“The general purpose of the EVP is to promote international educational and cultural exchange to develop mutual understanding between the people of the US and other countries,” Briones explained.
Serious concerns, abuses
Individuals approved to participate in the work-and-study-based programs under the EVP, Briones said, are granted Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visa – particularly the J-1 Visa for the exchange visitors and J-2 Visa for spouses and dependents, as applicable.
However, Briones explained that at the 33rdCabinet Meeting held last January 7, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) “gave a report on the implementation of the EVP” – raising various concerns.
Briones explained that among those concerns involving teachers who participate in the EVP include the “collection of exorbitant fees for J-1 visa application and processing” and “teachers and other workers do not receive regular benefits including repatriation due to J-1 visa limitations.”
Citing the same DOLE report, Briones noted that “local partners, middlemen and visa sponsors force teachers, interns, and their families to pay excessive amounts for car pool transportation, accommodation, and insurance, among others.”
The J-1 visa program, Briones noted, was “being abused by visa sponsors, employers, or schools as an alternative form of employment.” She also expressed concern for EVP participants when “local agencies did not assume accountability to the participants” whenever issues or problems arise onsite.
Briones said that while rules and regulations on the implementation of the EVP are being “reviewed by various concerned government agencies,” all DepEd officials, school heads and private school administrators are enjoined to “exercise due diligence in acting upon requests for authority to travel to the US” under the J-1 visa whether for official or personal/private reasons, “to ensure the protection of the welfare of our teachers.”
The EVP, Briones said, is an “international exchange program” by the US established under its United States Information and Education Exchange Act of 1948 and further defined under its amended Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961.
Briones cited that the governments of the Philippines and the US “entered into an agreement to implement the EVP” in 1948. In 1956, a committee was created to coordinate Philippine participation in the EVP through Administrative No. (AO) 191, amended by AO 210 in March 1970 and further amended by AO242 in January 1996.