Placement firm must refund $1.8M to Filipino


Ingrid Cruz teaches robotics at Scotlandville Middle Pre-Engineering Academy in Baton Rouge, La., in 2009. She’s one of more than 350 teachers that unions allege were kept in “virtual servitude” by the recruiting firm that placed them.

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
A Los Angeles-based placement firm that brought more than 350 Filipino teachers to Louisiana to teach in public schools must refund as much as $1.8 million in “marketing fees” after a judge’s ruling that the fees are prohibited. The firm’s president could also face criminal charges the judge says.

In return for their new teaching jobs in the U.S., teachers say Universal Placement International (UPI) charged them thousands of dollars up front, demanded 10% of their salaries up front in their first year of teaching — and 20% in their second year — and held on to their U.S. work visas if they refused to pay, among other allegations.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which represented the teachers in the case, said the ruling is ” victory for teachers and for fundamental human rights.”

Over the past three years, UPI has brought about 360 teachers to Louisiana. The union estimates that each paid about $5,000 in “marketing fees,” which would make UPI liable to repay $1.8 million. The administrative law judge in the case, Shelly Dick, also ruled that UPI violated state law by collecting placement fees before teachers started working — and that a few teachers ultimately ended up working in jobs other than those they’d been promised. The ruling was released late Thursday.

The teachers’ union alleges that UPI and a sister company in the Philippines kept teachers in “virtual servitude” by holding onto their H-1B visas unless teachers kept paying inflated fees, commissions and rents on shabby group apartments. Teachers paid upward of $16,000 apiece — about four times what they could earn annually as teachers in the Philippines — to get and keep jobs with public schools here.

The H-1B visa program each year brings about 6,000 teachers to the USA to fill hard-to-staff jobs in subjects such as math, foreign languages and special education. An estimated 19,000 migrant teachers work in U.S. schools, according to AFT, which last year warned of “widespread and egregious” abuses of imported teachers.

UPI attorney Murphy J. Foster III said he’s “very optimistic” that the decision will be rejected by a district court judge. He plans to appeal, saying Thursday’s decision is “internally inconsistent,” since it doesn’t challenge the validity of UPI’s contracts with the Filipino teachers. “If the contract is valid, then money is owed,” he said.

Foster also said it’s unconstitutional for Louisiana to require that firms doing business with the state maintain an office in Louisiana.

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Comments

  1. yes the firm should pay the placement refund of 1.8M to filipino’s because as a teacher it is very hard to handle students specially when you are outside of the country and aside from that you must be fair to filipinos because here in the philippines we are respecting foreign investors specially when they are doing business in the philippines

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