AFT Report Finds Abuses in Overseas Teacher Recruitment

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The growing number of overseas-educated teachers in U.S. schools has put many talented educators in classrooms, but the trend also has led to a host of concerns about exploitation, questionable hiring practices and harmful effects in the countries that are losing their most qualified teachers, according to a new AFT report.

Importing Educators coverThe report, "Importing Educators: Causes and Consequences of International Teacher Recruitment," includes case studies of international recruiters who help school districts in the United States acquire work visas and hire noncitizens. Recruiters sometimes use fees charged to workers to pay for U.S. school officials' overseas trips, where they stay in luxury hotels and handpick teachers at job fairs. Not surprisingly, some school district officials have become increasingly reliant on overseas hiring. For instance, nearly 10 percent of public school teachers in Baltimore come from the Philippines.

The report also documents recruiting agencies that have intimidated teachers, forced them into housing contracts, misrepresented their pay, charged them exorbitant fees and threatened to pull their visas.

"It is an outrage that these abuses are occurring in the United States," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "The AFT is adamant that all teachers working in our school system must be fairly treated, no matter what country they are from."

Recruiters' practices sometimes go beyond the threat of deportation. A recruiter for overseas-educated teachers in Newark, N.J., forced teachers to sign a contract obligating them to pay 25 percent of their salaries to the recruiter. Another recruiter, operating mainly in the South, charges placement fees to the schools but, until a few years ago, required teachers to lease and insure cars with a company affiliate. Other recruiters have required teachers to take out loans with an effective annual interest rate of 60 percent; forbidden teachers to own cars; and placed teachers in overcrowded, unfinished housing.

Findings from the report include:

  • Roughly 19,000 teachers were working in the United States on temporary visas in 2007;
  • The number of overseas-trained teachers being hired in the United States is increasing steadily;
  • Abuses of overseas-trained teachers appear to be widespread and egregious;
  • For-profit recruiting practices are almost entirely unregulated;
  • Extensive recruitment harms schools and students in the teachers' home countries; and
  • The root causes of U.S. teacher shortages are masked by international recruitment practices.

"We have to respect the teachers we bring to this country, and, at the same time, we have to address the root causes—low pay, unsafe schools, lack of administrative support—that make it hard to staff some of our schools," Weingarten says.

The report calls for federal, state and local governments to take steps to monitor the hiring of migrant teachers, including:

  • Developing, adopting and enforcing ethical standards for the international recruitment of teachers;
  • Improving access to the government data necessary to track and study international hiring trends in education; and
  • Fostering international cooperation to protect migrant workers and mitigate any negative impact of teacher migration in their home countries.

The AFT passed a resolution in July 2009 committing the union to organize and represent highly skilled migrant workers and reiterating their basic human rights.

The full report is available online.

September 14, 2009