View From Lodi, CA: Look Out Teachers; The H-1B Visa Gang Wants Your Job
August 26, 2005, 05:00 AM
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A recent item in the Las Vegas Review-Journal should raise eyebrows among my teaching colleagues and parents with school age children.

In his warm and fuzzy story titled Teachers Arrive From Philippines, Antonio Planas reported that 51 Filipino teachers recruited in February to work for the Clark County School District have completed their 7,000-mile journey. They are headed directly to the classroom. [August 2, 2005]

Clark County is, according to the story, short about 400 teachers district wide.

But tough, unasked questions remain.

Will the new instructors be able to make the transition from teaching in rural communities half way around the world—one described her village as "rice and coconut farmers"—to teaching in the neon lights of urban Las Vegas?

That would be no small feat. Look, for example, at the personal history of Elvira Ocamia as retold by Planas.

Ocamia, who has never been outside the Philippines, is 56-years-old, married for 36 years and the mother of eight children. She will be living either in an apartment or with other Las Vegas Filipinos, but without her husband or children.

Can Ocamia get off a plane and be emotionally prepared to deal with disruptive students in a demanding classroom?

Another teacher, Elmer Potes, admitted that he speaks broken English with a heavy accent. Will his high-school math students, already sufficiently challenged, be able to understand him?

Ken Record, a long time Clark County resident who follows education issues, said

"The way math is taught today, verbal skills are very important."

Most of the recently arrived teachers admit that all they know about Las Vegas is what they have seen on television and on the Internet.

The Filipino teachers are legally in the U.S. on non-immigrant H-1B visas. And that fact begs a bigger question: did Clark County exhaust every opportunity to hire an American before traveling to the other side of the globe?

Rob Sanchez, who tracks non-immigrant visa issues and is the Webmaster for the invaluable www.zazona.com, says school districts fail to look at unemployed local professionals. Many laid off software engineers, for example, have gone back to school to get education degrees.

Wrote Sanchez in his August 3rd newsletter:

"School districts all over the United States are actively recruiting foreign teachers for our schools. In this case, Filipino math and science teachers on H-1B visas have just arrived in Nevada.

I have talked to many engineers and programmers that have been unable to get teaching jobs in math and science, despite the fact that they went back to school to get education degrees. Despite the growing number of desperate unemployed high-tech workers states like Nevada still claim there is a shortage of these types of teachers. This is just another cruel insult to the growing number of highly educated professionals that can't find meaningful work."

And when Sanchez says that recruitment of foreign teachers is going on nationwide, he isn't kidding.

  • In 2003, Arizona educators traveled to New Delhi for teachers even though the local Scottsdale Unified School District cut 175 jobs during the same period. [Teachers Recruited from India, Pat Kossan, Arizona Republic, March 22, 2003]

  • In June 2004, the New York Department of Education, crying "shortage," added 200 additional teachers from Jamaica to its staff. The state offered two additional bonuses: free legal advice so that they could convert their visas into permanent residency status and free temporary housing.

  • In September 2001, Cleveland hired 50 math and special education teachers from India. This year 500 pink slips are being sent out in what the Cleveland Plain-Dealer describes as

"The first wave in what will be deep staff cuts in the school district."

[Nearly 500 Teachers Will Be Cut, Janet Okoben and Ebony Reed, April 23, 2005]

At the beginning of my column I warned that teachers should be leery of the trend to hire H-1Bs.

Conservative estimates put the number of teachers with non-immigrant visas at about 15,000…and growing.

If you wonder why the attraction to H-1Bs is so strong, read the 2004 National Education Association report Trends in Foreign Teacher Recruitment.

From the NEA report:  

"…Some foreign teachers receive lower pay than comparable teachers in their schools."

And:  

"…Some school districts pay their nonimmigrant employees as new teachers, regardless of their experience and qualifications."  

And to the parents, I urge you not to settle for anything less than the best for your child. In today's job environment, your kid needs the best possible academic foundation. With nearly 14 million unemployed or under-employed Americans, the chances are great that someone in your community with professional experience and impressive academic credentials would jump at the chance to teach.  School administrators should forget about traveling around the world to sign up teachers simply because they will work for less.  Instead, to ensure a quality education for our children, they must find good teachers locally and pay them well.

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.