Shortage hiring, usually a temporary response to gaps in market supply and demand, often undermines job security and reinforces discriminatory practices. 

Employers use shortage hiring, which is generally temporary, when they perceive an inability to fill positions domestically. Countries or employers hire teachers from abroad who are willing to accept the wages and working conditions offered in hard-to-staff schools and content areas, often capitalizing on global wage differentials and providing little professional support. Regardless of their personal motivations or aspirations, a mere 17% of global respondents to the survey for “Getting Migration and Mobility Right” had permanent visa status while working abroad and 81% had fixed term contracts, making their positions precarious by definition. While temporary status many be logical or even desirable for professional and cultural exchanges, it poses serious concerns for both rights and quality when used to address critical shortages.  

Characteristics of Shortage Hiring

Shortage hiring responds to market failures and mismatches in supply and demand. Unable or unwilling to meet staffing needs locally, a growing number of countries look abroad to find teachers. Internationally recruited teachers are often placed in hard-to-staff schools to provide instruction in the hardest-to-fill subject areas with little professional support. Job security can be uncertain, as restrictions imposed by a visa, employer, or recruiter often limit the length of time teachers can stay in the host country, the rights they have on the job and in society, and even their ability to travel with their families. Their “foreign” status is not always valued and respected – many report that they face unequal treatment.

In the shortage model, the countries with the greatest resources attract teachers, rather than countries with the greatest need. Extensive recruitment from abroad can create both quantitative and qualitative shortages in source countries. Hiring from abroad to fill shortages can also diminish teacher status.  Rather than raising wages or improving working conditions to attract local teachers, employers cast a more global search net.  

“Although teachers were regarded as professionals, the working hours were long, the pay was relatively unattractive, and there was a lack of autonomy at all levels.” (Manik et al., 2006) 

The best alternative to international recruitment to fill shortages is long-range workforce planning and investment in both source and destination countries. Where shortage hiring is undertaken, it should be done following ethical standards such as those set out in the Commonwealth Teacher Recruitment Protocol, and it should be part of a search for lasting staffing solutions, affording teachers a path to permanence should they choose it.

Survey Highlights

Shortage hiring exploits global income inequalities to attract teachers. Salary differentials and job availability are motivators or “pull” factors for teachers in this model. Survey respondents from prominent labour exporting countries have significantly different motivations than teachers who pursuing professional or cultural exchanges overseas.  Overall, only 38% of teachers indicate that their top motivation for migrating to another country is to earn higher salaries or support their families. However, responses from the five top source countries in this survey reveal that income considerations are the primary motivations for teachers from the Philippines (79%) and India (73%).  This contrasts sharply with the lower percentages of teachers from Spain (24%) Colombia (20%) and the United States, (20%) who moved in order to earn higher wages or support their family.  Teachers from those countries express more interest in professional development and seeing the world.

One indicator of employer intention is the subject for which they are recruiting.  Here again, there is substantial variation by source country.  More than half of the teachers recruited from labour exporting countries were hired to teach math, science or special education, fields in which many countries have experienced shortages.  56% of Indians taught these subjects with a concentration on sciences and a notable 83% of Filipino teachers worked abroad in these shortage fields, with the largest share teaching special education.  By contrast, the largest percentages by far from Spain, Colombia and the United States were teaching a foreign language.