“Hello, I think we’ve got some good news. We’re still waiting on additional elements, but it’s looking good for the J-1 visas.” This text message sent on Tuesday morning — on Bastille Day, of all days — by Mathieu Ausseil, education attaché at the French embassy in Washington and head of bilingual programs for elementary and secondary schools, delighted Georgia Geerlings.
The director of French-English dual-language programs in Utah was told the next day that the 8 French teachers she has been expecting will finally be granted their J-1 visas. According to the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, their documents will be processed by the end of July. In Louisiana, Peggy Feehan is also “relieved.” The executive director of the CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana), the agency tasked with recruitment, was waiting on 49 Francophone teachers.
This development has put an end to almost a month of uncertainty. On June 22, Donald Trump suspended a number of work visas, including the J-1, to protect American citizens who had been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, he may not have realized that the presidential proclamation nº10052 also threatened the nation’s dual-language schools, which depend on temporary work visas to hire international teachers.
In Louisiana, 2,200 students could have been left without an education in the absence of these Francophone and Hispanic teachers. An alarming situation that provoked a massive swell of support. More than 6,000 people signed a petition launched by the Francophone media outlet Télé-Louisiane, and representatives in Louisiana, Utah, and North Carolina all wrote to Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the French ambassador Philippe Etienne held talks with the U.S. secretary of state and the secretary of homeland security.
The solution to the problem was found in paragraph 3.b.iv of the executive order, according to which people “whose entry [into the United States] would be in the national interest” were not affected by the suspension of visas. It was thanks to this exception that the teachers were granted a waiver. This last-minute measure goes to show the importance of teaching exchange programs in the United States. Speaking from Salt Lake City, Georgia Geerlings said that “it’s the best news I’ve heard all year!”