US to propose hike in H-1B application fee: Labour Secretary

Washington: The US plans to hike the H-1B visa application fee to increase funding for the expansion of an apprentice programme, Labour Secretary Alexander Acosta has told American lawmakers, a move that would impose additional financial burden on Indian IT companies.

Testifying before a Congressional committee on the annual budget of the Department of Labor for the fiscal year 2020 beginning October 1, 2019, he said that the Labour Department has also made changes to the H-1B application forms to ensure greater transparency and better protect American workers from employers seeking to misuse the programme. Acosta, however, did not give details of the proposed increase in the H-1B filing fee and the categories of applicants it would be enforced on.

But given past experience, the Indian IT companies, which account for a large number of H-1B applications, are likely to face the additional financial burden because of this proposed increase in H-1B filing fees. The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

Arguing that foreigners hurt American workers by competing for jobs and driving down wages, the Trump administration has tightened the noose around the H-1B visa programme. In his testimony on 2 May , Acosta said, “In FY 2020, the Department’s budget includes $160 million to continue our expansion of apprenticeship programmes, along with a proposal to increase H-1B fee revenues to fund additional apprenticeship activities.” The apprentice programme trains American youths in technology related activities.

Acosta told lawmakers that last year the Department of Labour had launched the first-ever sector-based apprenticeship grant funding opportunity to invest $150 million to expand apprenticeships in those in-demand industry sectors most often filled by individuals on H-1B visas, such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. This grant funding opportunity introduced an innovative approach: a 35 per cent private-sector match requirement. This brings the total investment to $202.5 million, $57.7 million coming from the private sector, he said.

“As a result of this private sector match requirement, educators have a greater incentive to join with industry to ensure curricula address the needs of our ever-changing workplace, investing in the latest technologies and techniques, and providing more in-demand opportunities for Americans, Acosta said. On July 18 last year, the Department of Labour announced $150 million in H-1B funds to support sector-based approaches to expanding apprenticeships on a national scale in key industry sectors. The focus is on industries reliant on H-1B visas.

It aims at expanding apprenticeships and increase the level of apprenticeship activity among a range of new employers within these industries, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses. The Seattle Times on Monday reported that last year immigration officials denied nearly one out of every four requests for new visas for skilled foreign workers. In fiscal 2018, the Department of Labour concluded 649 non-immigrant visa programme cases and found violations in 553 of those cases.

Media reported that every year, more than 100,000 foreign workers are brought to the US on the H-1B visa and are allowed to stay for up to six years. There are about 650,000 H-1B visa foreign workers in the US at any given moment, it added. “Let’s put our citizens first and protect US workers and wages. Hard-working and highly-skilled American men and women share their stories about H-1B visa fraud and abuse,” Republican Congressman from Arizona Paul Gosar said.