The IT Industry Should Learn an H-1B Lesson from America's Schools

By David North on June 26, 2013

Amidst all the talk on Capitol Hill about the alleged "need" for more alien workers, here is a bit of contrary news:

America's school systems, in the period 2010 to 2012, reduced their requests to hire H-1B schoolteachers from overseas by more than 20 percent. Setting aside data from New York City's Board of Education, which are impossible to follow, collectively the school systems in the United States, public and private, reduced their requests to the Labor Department for foreign teachers from 6,185 in FY 2010 to 4,857 in FY 2012. (For an earlier review of the interaction of the K-12 education systems and the H-1B program, see this CIS Backgrounder.

Further, while 1,971 of these educational systems applied for one or more H-1 B teachers in FY 2010, only 1,785 systems did so in FY 2012.

Three measures, all showing a pronounced reduction in the usage of the H-1B program, are shown below:

Measure FY 2010 FY 2012
Number of H-1B teachers sought, nationwide,
by K-12 school systems except NYC
6,185 4,857
Number of such systems seeking one or more H-1B teachers 1,971 1,785
Number of such systems seeking 10 or more H-1B teachers 85 57

The data for both years were drawn from spread sheets maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor and represent the number of times that school systems set in motion efforts to hire foreign teachers by filing a Labor Condition Application. There are other steps involved in the process, and the number of new foreign teachers actually hired is presumably somewhat smaller than the totals shown above.

These are work-load and not population figures; the population of aliens working in schools on H-1B visas is much, much larger than the numbers shown, as these visas last for years, and can be renewed easily.

Why such pronounced reductions in the hiring of foreign teachers, when the high-tech companies complain of "labor shortages" and thus a "need" for more H1-B workers? I sense three reasons.

First, there are the real facts of the U.S. labor market; there are massive numbers of legal residents without work, including many experienced, credentialed, resident school teachers.

Second, most schools are public institutions and as such these systems are more likely to be attuned to the needs and wants of the American public than either the aloof, inward-looking big IT employers (Google, IBM, Microsoft, etc.) or the big outsourcing companies, which tend to be dominated by Indian nationals or former Indian nationals.

Third, two major local public school systems suffered severe reverses at the hands of the U.S. Labor Department or the courts, and, as a result, stopped seeking new H-1B teachers by 2012. These were the Prince George's County (Md.) system, which was penalized by DoL, and the East Baton Rouge (La.) system that was successfully sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center. For more on these former major-users of H-1Bs see, respectively, the CIS blogs here and here.

The news coverage of these adverse decisions, particularly in the education trade press, also may have discouraged other school systems from using the H-1B program, or using it as extensively as they had in the past.

Would it be too much to ask for the IT industry to take the same approach as the educators, and look increasingly to resident workers (including both citizens and green card holders) to meet their labor needs?

To review the basic DoL data used in this blog, see here and scroll down to H-1B, and then look at the years 2010 and 2012.

The author is grateful to Jesica Ray, a CIS intern, for her research assistance.