H-1B Fees Help Keep VARs Up to Speed

Half the fee for hiring an H-1B worker goes to training U.S. citizens. Most of that allotment goes to service providers who use it to give their U.S. workers advanced training and certifications.

Each year tens of thousands of college-educated workers from outside the United States receive temporary work visas for skilled jobs that ostensibly would go unfilled by Americans.

Holders of so-called H-1B visas gain entry into the United States for temporary assignments in "specialty occupations," many of them in IT. Their U.S. employers pay a fee to the Department of Labor for each H-1B visa holder they hire.

What happens to those fees?

About half of the money collected by the Department of Labor funds the H-1B Technical Skills Training Grant Program, created in 1998, following the passage of the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act. Employers that qualify for the grants use the money to train U.S. citizens for jobs that might have gone to H-1B holders.

The program has disbursed more than $200 million to employers. About $6 million went to the IT trade association CompTIA, based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., through two grants of about $3 million each. CompTIA, whose membership includes thousands of solution providers and resellers, disburses the money to nine partners, including four resellers.

The recipients qualified for the grants by committing to send employees who are U.S. citizens to IT skills training. They are OTAi Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., ComputerLand, of Quincy, Ill., Valcom Business Center, St. Louis, Mo.; VanCura & Associates, Orlando, Fla.; IBM Corp.; Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.; Allstate Insurance Co.; Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.; and Citigroup Inc.

OTAi, a 15-employee IT services consultancy, last year used the H-1B money to train six workers in such curricula as Oracle Corp. and JBoss Inc. certifications. This year, five employees are scheduled for more training, starting in the second quarter.

"We have been able to get our employees into training that we couldnt have afforded otherwise," said Hazel Campbell, executive vice president at OTAi. Thats because certification courses are expensive, especially for small companies, she said.

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