One of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans' campuses in New Orleans.

Following an executive order by President Donald Trump banning the issuance of certain types of work visas — including visas for international teachers — it does not appear new teachers from overseas that French immersion school Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans and other Louisiana schools were expecting will be here by the beginning of the school year, according to  two state agencies.

Trump signed the proclamation last month, casting the move as a jobs protection decision for U.S. workers amid high unemployment caused by the COVID-19 crisis, which has stalled the country’s economy and life as Americans know it. The State Department had already suspended many routine visa services earlier in the pandemic. But the order solidifies the suspension of certain types of work visas, including J-1 visas — used for educational purposes by teachers, students and others — through the end of the year. 

“Given that the presidential proclamation expires at the end of 2020, there exists the possibility that J-1 teachers will come in January,” Council for the Development of French in Louisiana spokesman Matt Mick wrote in an email. CODOFIL, a state agency, runs a program that helps recruit teachers from France to Louisiana.

“However, our international partners and federal officials are continuing to communicate regarding an exemption for these teachers. CODOFIL is following these developments closely.”

The Trump administration has continued to limit international education. This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued new rules barring international students from remaining in the country if they were only taking online courses.

Teachers from many countries come to Louisiana and other states on the educational J-1 visa, which lasts up to three years. In total, 72 teachers bound for the state could be affected. Of them, 22 were teachers from France bound for Orleans Parish. Teachers already in the country on these visas can remain. 

It’s unclear how many of the 22 teachers were set to work at Lycée. On Friday, Lycée CEO Marina Schoen said the situation was fluid and referred The Lens to the Louisiana Department of Education.

“The State of Louisiana, with our international government partners, is continuing to advocate for an exemption to Presidential Proclamation 10014 so that our new recruits would be able to travel to Louisiana and teach our students in the fall,” Louisiana Department of Education spokesman Ted Beasley wrote. “If the petition is unsuccessful, Louisiana is prepared to welcome teachers at the end of the travel ban.”

With COVID-19 cases on a continued rise and many federal visa programs in question in mid-June, the French government asked that the U.S. fast-track visas for teachers in France awaiting them — otherwise the French government would cancel recruitment to ensure their teachers had jobs. 

That’s when Lycée and other Louisiana immersion schools were made aware there could be staffing shortages. A State Department memo said Lycée could lose 35 percent of its staff. The memo noted five other schools across the state that could be significantly impacted, and entire language programs in some smaller school districts.

Two weeks later, Trump’s ban on certain types of visas all but guaranteed the teachers seeking new visas would not be able to enter the country. At the time, the Louisiana Department of Education, the state’s Council for the Development of French in Louisiana and other agencies were requesting federal assistance and said they were hopeful that the teachers could receive waivers allowing them to enter the country in spite of the order. 

In an interview this week, Schoen said she was grateful for their work and named several additional agencies and nonprofits, legislators, U.S. representatives and French officials who she said tried to help move the visas along. 

It appears that the French government is willing to work with the U.S. to get teachers here in the middle of the 2020-2021 school year, when the order expires. 

Beasley confirmed an internal memo shared with Schoen that said education officials in France were attempting to work within the confines of the presidential proclamation to allow teachers to leave mid-year. It read in part: “In honor of our long standing accords and knowing that some schools in Louisiana are homologué (accredited) with France, the superintendents in France have agreed to allow mid-year departures so that new recruits could arrive in Louisiana schools in January.”

Schoen said her administration is working to fill the gaps but wouldn’t specify the current number of vacancies. “We have three or four interviews today.”

“We are grateful to all those who spoke of the importance of French in Louisiana, and insisted that it is fundamental to have access to French speaking teachers not only for our schools, but because the French language continues to shape the culture and the future of our state, preserving our heritage,” she wrote. “We continue to hope this immigration decision is reversed, or that foreign teachers be granted an exception, considering the impact it has on our students, families and our entire community.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...