Global Talent Bridge Partner Blog

News on practice and policy affecting internationally trained immigrants and refugees

New Virginia Law Will Foster Inclusion in Teacher Workforce

Friday May 6, 2022 | by Sara McElmurry

Over the past decade, more than 300,000 new students have been added to Virginia’s K-12 schools. However, during that same period, only 3,000 new employees were hired. The number of unfilled teaching positions across the commonwealth jumped 62 percent in just two years, from the school year 2018-2019 to 2020-2021. Last August, 76 of Virginia’s 132 school districts reported a staggering total of nearly 5,000 educator vacancies. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing teacher workforce shortages in the state, and highlighted the need to build new teacher pipelines.

In advancing pathways to licensure for internationally trained teachers, Virginia will promote a more racially and ethnically diverse teacher workforce, ensure more equitable access to licensure, and improve student outcomes. Research suggests that a more inclusive teacher workforce that reflects students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds improves student attendance and academic outcomes. However, as of the 2020-2021 school year, more than 80 percent of Virginia’s educators were White, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education, even as the state’s Latino population grew by 44 percent over the past decade. Black Virginians make up 20 percent of the state’s population, and Asian Americans, nearly 10 percent.

On April 11, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed bipartisan legislation that aims to make progress toward addressing these challenges: Virginia’s new law offers internationally credentialed immigrants and refugees a path to state licensure.

“Virginia is an important destination for many refugee nationalities, such as Congolese, Iraqis, Syrians, and Bhutanese, and is one of the top states receiving thousands of Afghan evacuees,” said Meredith Owen, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Church World Service. “Virginia residents have played a vital role in the resettlement program, and refugees and immigrants have positively contributed to Virginia communities. The commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring that our newest neighbors have equitable opportunities to advance in their careers marks progress toward fair economic mobility. This will benefit all Virginians.”

A New Pathway to Licensure

According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, 10,000 immigrants and refugees in Virginia hold international teaching credentials, yet only 35 percent work in jobs commensurate with their experience and training; 5 percent are unemployed in the state. Nationally, the underemployment of Black immigrants is 54 percent higher than that of White immigrants; for Latinos it is 40 percent higher. Systemic barriers, including the limited recognition of international credentials under current state licensing laws, impede employment opportunities.

Bipartisan legislation, SB68 and HB979, passed the Virginia General Assembly with broad support in early April. The new law will help to address the state’s teacher workforce shortages and foster inclusion by issuing a provisional license to eligible internationally licensed educators in Virginia. Applicants must hold a teaching license granted by an official entity of another country. Provisional licenses will be issued by the Virginia Board of Education for a period of up to three years, during which individuals can work to complete the requirements for the state’s five-year renewable teaching license.

“This new law helps us fill our ongoing teacher shortage in Virginia by bringing talented, experienced educators to our classrooms,” said Delegate Kathy Tran, a sponsor of the bill. “New Americans who are educators and already make Virginia their home can now find employment in their field, reach their career potential, and make a positive impact in the lives of students. This is a win-win for Virginia’s students, schools, and communities.”

A Model for Other States

Virginia is not alone in grappling with school staffing shortages. Data from the 2012-2013 school year point to a nationwide shortage of at least 20,000 teachers. That shortfall grew to more than 110,000 by the 2017-2018 school year and was projected to remain at that level. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has only widened the gap: A 2021 national RAND survey of 1,000 teachers revealed that one in four would “likely leave” their jobs at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

This new law is a model for other states. “Virginia is a national leader in opening pathways for internationally trained educators to make a difference in the lives of students in classrooms across the state,” said Alexandra Manuel, a consultant on the WES Teacher Bridge Initiative and former executive director of Washington State’s Professional Educator Standards Board. “We hope other states will ensure equitable pathways to teaching for immigrant and refugee educators in building vibrant and inclusive teacher workforces.”


The IMPRINT Coalition’s #UntappedTalent campaign is advancing policies that are inclusive of all workers and that open pathways so that everyone has a fair chance of reaching their educational and career goals. Join us.

Sara McElmurry is a Communications & Policy Consultant at WES Global Talent Bridge.