The controversy over H-1B visas to date has largely centered on their issuance to engineers and scientists who are willing to work in the private sector at lower wages than their American counterparts. Despite the 50 percent decline in the number of petitions this year below last year and 80 percent decrease below 2009, the debate has merely subsided, rather than disappear.
What is less known is how the issuance of visas is being abused by school districts. According to The New Republic, Prince George’s County in Maryland, for example, now has more than 10 percent of its entire teaching staff working under H-1B visas (“F for Effort,” Sept. 28). The number of teachers is not necessarily a red flag. What is, however, are the practices associated with the visas that led the Labor Department to levy $5.9 million in fines and back pay against the district for “ripping off foreign schoolteachers working on temporary visas.”
Although Maryland is the only state so far that has been penalized, it won’t be long before other states follow. That’s because foreign teachers are exempt for the most part from the annual H-1B ceiling of 65,000 recipients. As a result, there is an incentive to bring as many teachers as possible to this country from abroad. A lawsuit was just filed by two Filipino teachers against Universal Placement International Inc. claiming that the firm forced them to pay exorbitant fees to help them get teaching jobs in Louisiana (“Filipino teachers in U.S. sue L.A. company,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 15). If a judge certifies the lawsuit as a class action, the move would add about 350 teachers to the litigation.
Exploiting foreign workers in any field is hardly new. But it has never before involved teachers. Cultural exchange is one thing, but that is not what is happening. The usual argument for importing teachers from overseas in science and math is that colleges are not producing enough qualified graduates in these fields. But this claim is not supported by the evidence. The Philippines are hardly noted for the quality of their math and science programs. On tests of international competition, the Philippines ranks below the U.S..
Nevertheless, I expect the trend to intensify as school districts across the country find themselves increasingly financially strapped. When they become desperate enough, they will go to any length to rationalize their decision.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.