One of the more surprising aspects of America’s debate about high skill immigration is how little attention focuses on the fees paid by employers of H-1B visa holders. Indians generally make up roughly half of H-1B professionals, though it varies from year to year, so the fee issue should be of interest to the Indian American community, particularly since it can play a role in the broader immigration policy debate.
Back in 1998, when Congress debated an increase in the H-1B quota, a compromise was reached to raise the 65,000 annual limit for temporary visas for high skilled professionals. The policy debate over increasing the annual H-1B limit centered largely on whether America and U.S. employers were doing enough to train and educate Americans for high skill jobs in the technology field. Under the legislation passed in 1998, Congress raised the H-1B quota for three years, but also assessed a $500 fee on for-profit employers each time they hired (or renewed the status of) an H-1B professional, with the money going towards scholarships and job training.
In 2000, Congress again temporarily boosted the annual quota on H-1B visas and this time raised the training/scholarship fee to $1,000. After both the fee and H-1B quota increase ended in late 2004, Congress raised the H-1B training/scholarship fee to $1,500 ($750 for smaller companies) and provided 20,000 H-1B visas annually (in addition to the 65,000 quota) for individuals who received a masters degree or higher from a U.S. university. Congress also added a $500 anti-fraud fee on each H-1B and L-1 visa.
Lots of Money Raised, But Little Attention
The money raised from this training/scholarship fee has quietly grown over the years. In fact, its growth has been so quiet that nobody seems to have realized how much money has been spent by employers on these fees and where the money has gone.
A recent study from the National Foundation for American Policy concluded:
In addition to paying skilled foreign-born professionals the same wages as comparable American workers, government data show U.S. employers have been required to pay over $3 billion in mandatory government fees since 2000. The data call into question critics’ assertions H-1B visa holders are hired to save money. Data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services obtained by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) show from FY 2000 to FY 2011, employers have paid over $2.3 billion to the federal government in H-1B scholarship/training fees (generally $1,500 per individual), while a $500 anti-fraud tax/fee on each H-1B and L-1 visa has cost employers more than $700 million.
(A copy of the study from the National Foundation for American, where I serve as executive director, can be found here.)
Where Has the Money Gone?
There is no scandal here. No one claims the money has not gone to its intended purpose. But it is clear this topic has fallen through the cracks. Employers gain no political credit for paying the fee and neither the U.S. Department of Labor nor the National Science Foundation give much publicity to the training or scholarships that the fee funds. Nor do employers gain much credit for their individual efforts to train workers or support education.
According to the most recent annual budget document of the National Science Foundation, due to the H-1B fees assessed on each H-1B professional hired, “Approximately 58,000 students have received scholarships ranging from one to four years.” The scholarships can be as high as $10,000 and are used by U.S. undergraduate and graduate students pursuing math and science degrees.
Examining past budgets finds over 100,000 U.S. workers have received training via the H-1B fees paid by employers. In its annual budget document the Department of Labor describes its H-1B-funded job training initiatives as targeting “skills and competencies in demand by industries for which employers are using H-1B visas to hire foreign workers.”
College Scholarships and Job Training Funded by Employers
Through H-1B Fees: FY 2000 to FY 2011
|College Scholarships through National Science Foundation||58,000|
|Job Training through Department of Labor||100,000 +|
Source: National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Labor, National Foundation for American Policy.
Thirty percent of every H-1B fee goes to scholarships provided to U.S. students through the National Science Foundation. Fifty percent of the fee is allotted to training programs. That means every time an H-1B visa holder is hired (or his/her status is renewed), $450 goes to fund a scholarship for a U.S. student and $750 is sent to provide job training for a U.S. worker.
It is good that U.S. workers and students receive training and scholarships. Whether that money, particularly $3 billion worth, should come directly from employers when they hire H-1B professionals is less clear but it has been U.S. government policy for a decade. If these fees are to continue, then they should figure more prominently in the debate over skilled immigration. The fees call into question the assertions made that 1) employers hire H-1B visa holders to save money and 2) companies do not help educate and train students and workers. There is one point everyone should agree on – even in Washington, $3 billion is a lot of money.