(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced Tuesday that it will award $100 million in competitive tuition-free job training grants to help U.S. businesses reduce their reliance on temporary work visas.
The grant program is part of the America’s Promise Job-Driven Grants program launched by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, in April.
“These grants are part of the Obama administration’s commitment to redesigning a modern skills infrastructure in America that engages employers as never before,” Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said.
A DOL spokesperson further explained the program to CNSNews.com, saying that it will connect tuition-free job-training/education programs with employers to create apprenticeship curriculums. The curriculums will help develop specific industry skillsets within each region so that workers can be equally qualified for jobs at different companies.
The $100 million will come from fees that businesses pay when they use the H-1B temporary visa program to bring foreign workers into the U.S. Between 20 and 40 four-year grants will be awarded, and each one will be worth between $1 million and $6 million, the spokesperson added.
DOL listed some requirements needed to get a grant:
“For each sector and service area, partnerships must include the public workforce system, an economic development agency, at least one education and training provider and at least five employers or a regional industry association."
The DOL says that as more American workers are trained, businesses will not have to rely on the H-1B program to find qualified employees.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the H-1B visa program allows U.S. companies to hire foreign workers with a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent for “specialty occupation” jobs.
However, Congress caps the H-1B visas granted at 85,000 per year, including 20,000 reserved for foreign students who graduate with a postgraduate degree from a U.S. college or university.
David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and a former assistant for farm labor to the Secretary of Labor, told CNSNews that it is “commendable” for the federal government to use foreign worker fees to train American workers.
But North said he is much more worried about alleged abuses in the H-1B program, saying that “there are many resident workers with solid STEM skills in the U.S,” but “companies prefer younger, cheaper, more docile foreign workers, and sometimes break the law to make use of them.”
Though he could not comment on the specifics of the DOL’s new grant program, Mehlman told CNSNews that there is a “perception on the part of a lot of employers that they don’t need to invest in worker training,” and can “use the United States government as a giant personnel agency to send them workers whenever they want them.”
He also suggested that the “government needs to be more judicious in issuing H-1B visas” so that companies stop “using H-1B workers in place of American workers.”
On the other hand, the American Immigration Council (AIC) claims on its website that H-1B visas are not taking away American jobs, saying that “workers do not necessarily compete against each other for a fixed number of jobs.”
In the U.S. economy, “H-1B workers positively impact our economy and the employment opportunities of native-born workers,” according to AIC.
But Hal Salzman, professor of public policy at Rutgers University, told the Chicago Tribune that the majority of H-1B visas go to foreign IT workers who do not have exceptional skills."There is no shortage of IT workers, just those available at a discount."