by Joe Guzzardi
The H-1B visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations typically is associated with tech industry use. But the visa can have more far-reaching applications as recent Capitol Hill actions showed. With the H-1B visas of 25 Baltimore teachers expiring, five Democratic members from the Maryland congressional delegation began to push for extensions.
The teachers’ H-1B history and the advocacy on their behalf to have them remain in the U.S. are familiar. They came to the U.S. years ago, 23 from the Philippines and two from Jamaica, as part of an effort to fill alleged job shortages in teaching slots for math, science and special education. According to a letter the Maryland teachers sent to then-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, the teachers have been in the U.S. for between eight and 12 years, are dedicated and have now built lives in the U.S.
Let’s allow that the foreign-born teachers are dedicated professionals and that returning home after extended U.S. stays might be disruptive. At the same time, let’s reject the intellectually insulting suggestion that no qualified American math and science instructors are available on the East Coast of the U.S. who might want Baltimore teaching positions.
Teaching in Baltimore and other major cities is no doubt challenging. Among the drawbacks are that teachers have to cope with overcrowded, frequently unruly classrooms and must deal with largely unsympathetic parents, principals and state education department bureaucrats.
Since eliminating the teaching profession’s negatives is impossible, the other variable to analyze in an effort to attract more local candidates is wages which could be adjusted upward so that they’re more consistent with the demands of the jobs. The average starting salary for Maryland teachers is $44,675 which will net $36,600 or $3,000 monthly.
The place to begin then, assuming Maryland’s congressional representatives are sincere about finding a permanent solution to their teacher shortage, is increasing salaries and not importing more foreign-born instructors. For years, school districts in California, Texas and other states have been misusing the H-1B visa to displace higher salaried, more experienced teachers and also remove teaching opportunities for young, college graduates who have trained to be teachers.
The pattern for H-1B teachers is the same as for Silicon Valley tech workers – the H-1B visa program expands the pool of young, cheaper workers with mostly basic skills and legally displaces Americans, often experienced workers over age 35, with guest workers who earn lower wages, and are tied to the employers who hold their visas.
The H-1B program’s dual intent allows employers to sponsor H-1B workers for Green Cards, which extends the period the worker is tied to the employer, indentured servitude 21stcentury style, and creates long backlogs of foreign guest workers who hope to permanently resettle in the U.S. H-1Bs are allowed to bring their spouses on H-4 visas, a category that includes employment authorization since former President Obama signed an executive order permitting work, and thereby expands the labor pool.
Whether the profession is tech or teaching, no shortage of potential workers exists. The issue is one of wages. Steadily declining teacher pay has led to more strikes, and more disruption in students’ education, the last thing that American kids need. The public perceives teachers’ wages as so inadequate that 73 percent of community residents, nationally, would support a walk out.
But before significant teacher wage hikes sweep the nation, more H-1B instructors might be in U.S. classrooms. The push for more visas is relentless, no matter how much evidence shows that employees are available in all the labor categories.
Before he left office, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna said he hoped to see the day when the federal government stops issuing employment-based visas. Cissna didn’t serve long enough to realize that accomplishment, but his goal remains one to pursue.