H-1B Cluelessness in the Shadow of Lady Liberty

By David North on July 5, 2011

School systems all over the country – well, some school systems – are deciding that it was not a good idea to hire nonimmigrant teachers from overseas in the H-1B program, and are not only not seeking new ones, but are beginning to think about laying off the old ones, as we noted in a recent blog.

The H-1B program has been primarily used for high tech workers, but there has been extensive employment of K-12 teachers through the program, as we reported in a CIS Memorandum this spring. Most school systems did not use the system, but many did, such as the ones in Prince George's County, Md., in Oakland, Calif., in New York City, and many in Texas and Louisiana.

These school systems are learning that while private sector employers can lay off alien workers with little publicity and less harm to their corporate image, it is not so easy to lay off veteran H-1B teachers, as they can raise a political storm when their (allegedly temporary) visas are not renewed.

The New York City school system, the largest in the country, is experiencing these problems as a recent Associated Press story documented. The city had, about ten years ago, recruited about 500 teachers from the Caribbean to fill what it regarded at the time as hard-to-fill jobs, and now, with a clear abundance of unemployed U.S. resident teachers, the system is having second thoughts.

And, as there often is in immigration matters, the all-too-familiar Klutz Factor is alive and well in this case. Quoting from the AP article:

Said Fatima Shama, who leads Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office of Immigrant Affairs, "We are committed to identifying and working for practical solutions that will provide permanent residency for our international teachers." Shama did not elaborate on what help the city would provide. …

"This is now a federal issue and we need to fix this in Washington, D.C.," said teachers union President Michael Mulgrew. "It's going to require us going together to Washington and saying enough is enough."

So here we are in the biggest, most immigrant-impacted city in the nation, the site of the Statue of Liberty, and we hear the head of the Office of Immigrant Affairs, working for the sharp-as-a-tack, staunchly pro-immigration mayor – and the head of the teacher's union in this most cosmopolitan of cities – both talking about an immigration matter important to their jobs as if they were a pair of rural clods from deep in the hinterlands.

If the city wants to help the teachers, all of whom came in on H-1B visas, all it has to do is to renew the visas and file green card applications for them, if it, in fact, wants to do that. There are no limitations on the number of times the H-1B visas can be renewed when green card applications are pending, and if the teachers are from the Caribbean there are no country-of-origin ceilings to delay the green cards. Ms. Shama should know that.

If Mr. Mulgrew wants to help, and if after all these years of all those H-1B teachers belonging to his union he still does not know what to do for them, he might spend a few minutes with an immigration lawyer or a USCIS employee – there are several of each category living and working in that city. There is absolutely no need for federal legislation in this case.

Incidentally, if I were a reporter writing in a big polylingual city I do not think I would start any sentence: "Said Fatima Shama ..." for fear of being accused of gender-bending. (Said, or Sa'id, is an Arabic first name for a man, Fatima is an Arabic first name for a woman, and Shama is an Arabic last name.)

If the reporter had written "According to Fatima Shama ..." there would have been no danger of a misunderstanding.