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Do You Have to be a Citizen to Become a Teacher?

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In the United States, citizenship is not a prerequisite for employment as a teacher. In fact, many areas that have a shortage of qualified teachers will recruit internationally to ensure their schools remain adequately staffed. For non-citizens, proper employment authorization is required to work in the United States. Examples of such authorization include U.S. temporary work visas and permanent resident visas.

Recruitment Programs

Several private companies and nonprofit organizations specialize in recruiting foreign teachers for American teaching jobs. In general, recruitment programs serve as liaisons between the foreign teachers and schools in need, but provide little or no assistance with the financial burden associated with bringing a teacher to the United States. While private schools may offer some immigration assistance, most public schools require the teacher to bear the costs of travel, visas and relocation.

Immigration Visas

Teachers initially coming to the United States typically enter on a temporary work visa. These visas authorize employment for a specific time frame with a sponsoring employer. H, J, Q and O visas are all temporary in nature, but have different restrictions. While H and O visas allow for teachers to apply for permanent residence while in possession of a work visa, J and Q visas are known as exchange visas, which often have a requirement to return to their native country for a period of time.

The Path to Citizenship as a Teacher

Prior to reaching citizenship, a teacher must first apply for a permanent resident card, commonly referred to as a green card. Barring any family connection United States citizens or permanent residents, a teacher will likely file for an employment-based green card. The process begins with a mandatory recruitment period known as PERM labor certification. PERM is a lengthy process that can take up to a year to complete, during which time the employer must prove that the teaching position cannot be filled by any qualified Americans in the geographic area. Once the PERM is approved, a petition for permanent residence may be filed, at which point a green card may still take several years to obtain, depending upon the number of immigrants in queue from the teacher's country of nationality.

Salary and Compensation

There is no discounted rate or penalty for non-citizens, nor is there a salary bonus for being a foreign national. Employers of temporary work visa holders are required to meet at least the minimum prevailing wage as determined by the Department of Labor for the geographic area of employment. The prevailing wage is used by immigration to prevent immigrants from accepting lower than average wages that many Americans may not accept. Schools may use signing bonuses or other incentives to try and recruit teachers, but these enticements are generally offered to all teachers under consideration, not only foreign nationals.


J.M. Soden has been a freelance writer since 2005. He primarily writes sports articles but also enjoys writing about travel destinations, legal matters and electronics troubleshooting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame in American studies.