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Congress taps H-1B fees to pay for legislation

Patrick Thibodeau | Dec. 22, 2010
The H-1B and L-1 visa program is becoming an increasingly important source of money for Congress as it tries to pay for the cost of new legislation, including the pending 9/11 health bill.

The CBO doesn't explain how it arrived at its estimates and that is prompting head scratching.

Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she could not explain the CBO estimates, and said the CBO may be expecting more visa petitions when "the trend is running in the other direction."

"I think there is a lot of creative mathematics," Williams said of the CBO projections.

The New Delhi-based National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), estimated in August that the fee increase will be apply to about 45,000 to 50,000 H-1B and L-1 visas annually. The fee applies to new visa applications and transfers.

Daniel Costa, immigration policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, said that based on NASSCOM's overall number, if 50,000 work visas are subject to the fee, it would raise $103.5 million. (The estimate may not account for the cost of visa applications that are denied and aren't refunded.)

That estimate isn't far from $133 million in visa revenue forecasted by the CBO in 2011 but is well short of the more than $300-plus million in annual visa fee revenue estimate for the 9/11 bill.

The reliance on H-1B fees by Congress may have other impacts as well, particularly on a longstanding effort by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to limit the number of H-1B or L-1 visas to 50% of a company's U.S. workforce, the so-called 50/50 rule.

The Durbin/Grassley legislation "would eliminate the main source of funding for the border security bill and one of the main sources for the 9/11 health bill," said Costa.

"If this amendment passes and the visa fees get extended as part of the 9/11 health bill - although the 50/50 companies are clearly offshoring jobs and harming US workers, I doubt anything will be done about it, because for the next decade, they'll be picking up the tab for aerial drones on the border, border patrol agents and health care for the heroes of Sept. 11," Costa said.

Prior to the $2,000 fee increase, to file a H-1B visa petition mean paying a $320 filing fee, a $500 antifraud fee that is required for any new H-1B and L-1 visa user, and a fee for training U.S. workers that scales from $750 to $1,500, depending on the size of the company applying for a visa. Many companies also pay $1,000 extra for what's called premium processing to accelerate handling of the visa.


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