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H-1B visa fees to fund new STEM training programs

Posted on January 6, 2014
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IT managers who cringe every time they hear of H-1B visa debates can take some comfort in the awarding of $100 million in STEM grants that arose from the fees collected on those visa applications.

The U.S. Department of Labor has recently announced that it will award approximately $100 million in grants to support STEM programs (STEM being science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The funds will be divided between 30 to 40 program recipients, the Department of Labor says.

The grant funds come from the fees that are paid by employers that sponsor and hire H1-B workers. The majority of workers hired under the H-1B program are IT professionals, especially in the area of software development. By Congressional order, the money raised from H1-B fees is supposed to be used toward the creation of programs in this country that will help reduce the need to hire foreign workers in future years.

That noble goal has not quite been realized, however. Each year when discussion renews on the quota for H1-B visas, the desire is always to raise the cap. IT lobbying associations and leading H1-B employers routinely convince Congress that more foreign workers are needed to address the skills gap in IT. Still, according to a report in the Seattle Times, since 2001, nearly $1 billion from H-1B fees has been distributed by the Department of Labor to programs that train the U.S. workforce in STEM-area skills.

As noted this week by CompTIA, “The STEM Pathways grant will represent a significant change in the administration of these fees in that it will redirect funds from the existing workforce–those unemployed and/or looking to change careers–to a competitive grant that addresses the future workforce.”

An example of how the funds are used is the Youth CareerConnect grant program, which aims to “increase high school students’ preparedness for post-secondary education and employability in high-growth, H-1B industries, and occupations such as the technology sector,” CompTIA wrote.

The hope is that education and training programs such as these will help reduce the dependency on skilled foreign professionals working in the U.S. on a temporary basis under the H-1B program. That strategy sounds great in theory, but is somewhat of a disconnect in terms of the type of basic level training offered by such programs, and the types of more highly skilled workers sought under the H-1B program.

If administered correctly (there have been several reported violations of the program in recent months), the H-1B program should only be enabling U.S. employers to sponsor foreign professionals for jobs which the employer can demonstrate were impossible to fill with available U.S. talent.

Still, every program that aids in STEM training and development is obviously a welcome one in the IT industry, and the new grants will hopefully help create new IT workers that otherwise might not have pursued that career path.

As noted by CompTIA, “the grant funding presents an opportunity for TECNA and TechVoice members to partner with a local school district or workforce investment board (WIB) that is likely to be the lead applicant seeking this grant funding.”

The deadline for organizations to submit applications for grant funding is Jan. 27. Grant applicants are required to include at least one employer or consortium of employers for each high growth industry or occupation they select. A consortium of employers could include a local or state technology trade association.

Some examples of how grant funds could be used, according to the CompTIA announcement, include:

  • Professional training for teachers and faculty
  • Field trips to employer’s places of business
  • Participating in speaking engagement at high schools to describe jobs in specific industries
  • Offering job shadow opportunities for students

The role of the employer partner in each grant application is to provide resources that support education and training such as equipment, facilities, instructors, funding and apprenticeships.

January 3, 2014

David Weldon

http://www.fiercecio.com/story/h-1b-visa-fees-fund-new-stem-training-programs/2014-01-03

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