International recruitment has been and can be used explicitly to increase the labor supply, resulting in depressed wages and working conditions. In 2005, the Heritage Foundation, a U.S. think tank, published a paper advocating the recruitment of mathematics and science teachers from abroad as more cost effective and efficient than increasing compensation to attract more domestic teachers. The paper recommended tripling the size of the temporary work visa program (from 65,000 to 195,000 visas per year) used to bring skilled professionals into the American workforce.

Just as troubling is the structure of the temporary work visa program through which a majority of teachers are hired. The most commonly used visa for teachers, the H-1B “Specialty Occupation” visa, is issued to the employer, rather than to the worker.  The employer maintains full control, not just of the migrant’s wages and working conditions, but also of his or her ability to remain in the country. Whether a teacher stays, and for how long, is entirely in the hands of the school district. The visa is designed to last for up to six years. However, if the employer decides to terminate employment, the visa also terminates. While H-1B regulations do allow migrants an option to attain permanent residency status, only the employer can put forward this petition, and it requires the employer to document that there are no qualified local candidates for the position. Thus, the temporary and employer-controlled nature of the work visa can erode job security, undermine union-negotiated due process protections, and exacerbate teacher turnover in schools with high need.

In general, the positions for which teachers are being recruited from abroad are the most difficult to fill positions in the most difficult to staff schools. While international hiring practices may place a teacher into the classroom, they do nothing to address the root causes of the staffing shortage. They also create a situation in which migrant teachers are assigned to some of the most challenging jobs in the U.S. education system.

A pronounced teacher shortage in the United States in the 1990’s began a wave of alternative approaches to staffing schools, including international recruitment and a program called Teach for America (TFA). 

Started in 1990, Teach for America recruits graduates from top universities to teach in high-needs schools for two years.  Notably, these recruits are not licensed teachers.  Teach for America’s founder recently launched a worldwide program dubbed Teach for All that promotes similar programs in 31 countries and is growing rapidly. From 2002 to 2011, TFA recruited nearly 30,000 teachers for temporary jobs in U.S. schools, while international recruitment accounted for more than 76,000 teaching visas issued, also with temporary status.

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References

Johnson, Kirk A. “How Immigration Reform Could Help Alleviate The Teacher Shortage.” The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #1884 (2005).