Every year Sharon Huang, founder of HudsonWay Immersion School, anxiously awaits October.
That is when she will learn if several of the Chinese language teachers at her primary schools will be able to carry on teaching or if they will be forced to leave the country midway through the semester.
“It’s very stressful on everybody,” said Huang, who runs two schools in New York and New Jersey. “We’ve had teachers who were denied visas and then very shortly thereafter they had to uproot their lives. It’s sad for the kids and the whole school community.”
Huang files around half a dozen applications to upgrade her teachers’ temporary graduate visas into something more permanent.
But each year a couple of those will not make it through the H1B visa lottery system.
Though H1B visa sponsorship is expensive, the process is a problem for the growing number of American schools offering a Chinese immersion curriculum, where elementary students take at least half their classes in Mandarin and teachers are typically native-level speakers.
It also points to a broader problem weighing down the buoyant American interest in Chinese language education: a shortage of Americans who are both highly fluent speakers and properly accredited schoolteachers.