View From Lodi, CA: How to Solve the Visa Overstayer Problem: Pay Americans More!
October 21, 2005, 05:00 AM
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Two months ago, I reported that Nevada's Clark County School District hired 51 Filipino teachers to assume immediate classroom responsibility despite never having taught—or even visited—the United States.

The final total by the time the school year began was 69…49 Filipinos, 14 Spaniards and 6 Canadians.

The teachers, who were widely touted by the local press and school administrators as a partial answer to the staffing problems in the in fast growing Las Vegas district, came to the U.S. legally on temporary work visas.

My column, on the other hand, saw it differently. I was highly critical of going offshore to hire teachers for two reasons.

First, with most school districts strapped for cash, I questioned the wisdom of spending $7,000 to send three recruiters half way around the world in search of employees. I was certain that talented educators could be found within a stone's throw of the administrative headquarters.

And second, I suspected that foreigners who had no experience with urban American students would be quickly overwhelmed.

I was right on both counts.

Two weeks after my first column, I wrote in a follow-up that Clark County rejected dozens of qualified candidates including hundreds of local residents including educated professionals, scientists, retired military officers and former teachers including the former Stockton Teacher of the Year, Teresa Porter. All have excellent subject knowledge and are skilled leaders.

And now it comes to light that a mere two months after the 2005-2006 school year began, the teachers are having a rough go of it, to put it mildly.

According to an October 14th Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial titled "Foreign Teachers Struggling?" the school district is seeking two "facilitators" to show the new teachers how to do their jobs. The cost for the two new positions will be in excess of $100,000 annually.

Typically Clark County, the nation's fifth largest school district, hires 2,000 new teachers each year. For every 400 new employees, one facilitator is available.

But the 69 foreign teachers are so out-gunned that they need two facilitators all to themselves.

Meanwhile, the local teachers spurned during the initial interview process are working as long-term substitutes at meager wages and without benefits.

The Review-Journal correctly states that taxpayers should be incensed.

As the foreign teachers struggle, some observers wonder what their future might hold if their performance doesn't improve.

Whether or not the teachers remain employed by the Clark County School District, it is unlikely they will ever return home even after their visas expire.

Last year, the temporary work visas of 60 Filipino teachers in various cities across the country expired. But instead of heeding the request of the Philippine government to return home and apply there the skills they had learned in the United States, the teachers boldly announced that their intention was to overstay visas indefinitely. [60 Filipino Teachers to Lose Jobs in U.S.," Rita Villadiego, Inquirer News Service, March 18, 2004]

When the teachers can no longer work legally for the school district but refuse to return home, what becomes of them?

Visa overstayers automatically become illegal aliens. Most enter the underground economy.

The Christian Science Monitor conservatively estimates that 100,000 legal visitors chose to remain in the US past the expiration date on their papers. According to the Monitor, which further calculates that as many as 5 million visa overstayers may reside in the U.S., "It is the method of choice for migrants from all over the world." A Harder Look at Visa Overstayers,  Alexandra Marks, Christian Science Monitor, February 5, 2002)

For overstayers like the Filipino teachers, it is easier for them than it is for border crossers to blend into mainstream America where they will go undetected.

They speak English; they're educated, skilled, and innovative.

And no one needs worry that the Department of Homeland Security will catch up with him. According to a 2002 General Accounting Office report only 2% of overstayers were arrested.

That total does not include Mexicans who upon entering America claim they will not stay in the U.S. for more than 72 hours or Canadians who tell immigration agents their visit will not exceed six months. Since neither fill out I-94 forms, the government has no clue how many such individuals are in the country or where they may be.

The whole issue of work visas, and the inevitable abuse of them, would vanish if employers were willing to pay a living wage.

In the case of the Clark County School District, the starting salary for first year teachers is $27,000.

Who can live on that? The median price of a home in Las Vegas is $281,000, an increase of nearly 50 percent since last year

As long as the district insists on paying slave wages, of course it will have to go overseas to find employees.

Any school district that is truly interested in providing the best teachers for its children should be as willing to pay higher salaries as it is to rush to foreign countries to gamble on untried, untested teachers.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.