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11/1/2006
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Should H-1B Employers Pay For U.S. Students' Degrees?

Would more Americans pursue technology careers if those students got their college educations for free? The Programmers Guild, an advocacy group for U.S. tech professionals, thinks so. In fact, the guild is about to announce a new proposal advocating that the U.S. government provide "100% subsidies" of tuition and expenses for American students enrolled in degree programs in computer science, engineerin

Would more Americans pursue technology careers if those students got their college educations for free? The Programmers Guild, an advocacy group for U.S. tech professionals, thinks so.

In fact, the guild is about to announce a new proposal advocating that the U.S. government provide "100% subsidies" of tuition and expenses for American students enrolled in degree programs in computer science, engineering, and other fields where there are U.S. skill shortages.

How would the U.S. pay for such a program, you ask? One source for funding could come from hiking government fees that U.S. companies pay to employ foreign H-1B visa holders to $5,000 per worker, per year.Right now, employers pay a one-time government fee of about $1,500 per H-1B worker. (Current costs for each H-1B visa are higher if an employer wants expedited processing, or if you count legal fees or visa renewals.)

Even if the government fees were to be raised annually to $5,000 per H-1B worker, "that's still a bargain," says Kim Berry, president of the Programmers Guild. "Many of those workers are being underpaid by $10,000 to $20,000 or more a year," he alleges. By increasing H-1B fees for the "roughly 500,000" H-1B workers he estimates are currently in the United States, Berry calculates that the government could afford to pay tuition costs averaging $20,000 per year for 125,000 American students.

That could cover a four-year education depending where you go. Tuition and fees at four-year private colleges for 2006 and 2007 average at $22,218, according to new figures by The College Board. Those costs at a four-year public college average at $5,836--and if you live on-campus, those costs rise to about $12,800 for in-state students, according to The College Board.

The guild doesn't have a huge lobby group in Washington, D.C., admits Berry. However, once things settle down after the midterm elections, the guild wants to raise awareness of its proposal and will approach members of Congress about supporting the idea, he says.

So far, a plan to raise H-1B visa fees doesn't sit well with some other advocacy groups, especially those representing employers that depend heavily on H-1B talent.

The Programmers Guild's proposed fees are "excessive," said Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the American Council on International Personnel and chairman at Compete America, in an e-mail to InformationWeek.

According to Shotwell, "Since the inception of the H-1B program, U.S. employers have paid more than $1 billion in H-1B training and scholarship fees that have funded more than 40,000 scholarships for U.S. students in math and science, and funded hands-on science programs for 75,000 middle and high school students and 3,000 teachers."

Additionally, "more than 55,000 U.S. workers and professionals have received training through the H-1B fees paid by companies," said Shotwell.

"Until enough American students take an interest in studying math, science and engineering, we cannot afford to close the door to qualified, highly educated foreign workers by raising H-1B fees even further," she said.

What do you think? I'd like to know.

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