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I see mentioned in a Bloomberg Law piece that in Ambach v. Norwick, 441 U.S. 68 (1979)

Upholding a statute barring aliens from teaching in public schools, the [Supreme] Court reasoned that the "distinction between citizens and aliens, though ordinarily irrelevant to private activity, is fundamental to the definition and [288] government of a State. . . . It is because of this special significance of citizenship that governmental entities, when exercising the functions of government, have wider latitude in limiting the participation [**6] of noncitizens." Ambach, 441 U.S. at 75 (emphasis added).

So while constitutional, what is the extent of this prohibition? I think a good number of academics in higher US education are (at least initially) non-US-citizens. And even in lower-level US public schools there seem to be a number of foreigners.

More than 3,000 teachers given visas

The U.S. State Department says 3,252 foreign teachers were given exchange visas in 2018. The countries sending the most teachers were the Philippines, Spain, Jamaica, China and France.

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The law upheld by the decision is a New York law, and thus only applies in the state of New York. Its current text reads in relevant part:

No person shall be employed or authorized to teach in the public schools of the state who is... Not a citizen.  The provisions of this subdivision shall not apply, however, to an alien teacher now or hereafter employed, provided such teacher shall make due application to become a citizen and thereafter within the time prescribed by law shall become a citizen.  The provisions of this subdivision shall not apply, after July first, nineteen hundred sixty-seven, to an alien teacher employed pursuant to regulations adopted by the commissioner of education permitting such employment.  The citizenship requirements of this subdivision shall not apply to an alien teacher now or hereafter employed whose immigration status is that of a lawful permanent resident of the United States and who would otherwise be eligible to serve as a teacher, or to apply for or receive permanent certification as a teacher, but for the foregoing requirements of this subdivision.

The last sentence of that will no longer be effective starting Nov 30 2022.

So, this law only says they are prohibited in New York public schools. And even then, they are allowed if they are applying to be a citizen, if they are hired pursuant to regulations adopted by the commissioner of education, or (until 2022) if they are a lawful permanent resident of the US.

Other states may have other laws, of course.

  • It's interesting that the ability for permanent residents to teach is being phased out. Politically, that doesn't seem like something the current New York legislature would be likely to do. I wonder if there is something here that we're missing? (I also wonder what the commissioner's regulations are like - conceivably they could be so permissive as to render the restriction basically ineffective.) – Nate Eldredge Dec 2 '19 at 14:02
  • I found the current regulations here "Notwithstanding any other provision this Part to the contrary, no otherwise qualified applicant shall be denied a certificate under this Part, or registration pursuant to this Title by reason of his or her citizenship or immigration status, unless such applicant is otherwise ineligible for a professional license under 8 USC section 1621 or any other applicable Federal law." – D M Dec 3 '19 at 5:32
  • The regulations at the time of the Supreme Court decision, in contrast, were "A teacher who is not a citizen of the United States or who has not declared intention of becoming a citizen may be issued a provisional certificate providing such teacher has the appropriate educational qualifications as defined in the regulations and (1) possesses skills or competencies not readily available among teachers holding citizenship, or (2) is unable to declare intention of becoming a citizen for valid statutory reasons." – D M Dec 3 '19 at 5:33

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