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Congress milks fees from visa workers
Scripps Howard News Service


December 01, 2005

WASHINGTON - Congress is gearing up to get tough on the border, but meanwhile, it's happy to rake in the cash from legal immigrants and their employers.

While the House of Representatives is scheduled to take up border security legislation in December and the Senate will do so in February, the Judiciary Committee in each chamber is meeting budget spending targets by raising more than $80 million from companies employing foreign workers.

That's on top of recent fee increases to the immigrants themselves for visas, citizenship applications and other documents, which help pay for increased security.

Even some groups who want to limit immigration worry that Congress is becoming addicted to cash from foreign workers, who already hold one in seven U.S. jobs.

Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, is alarmed by the Senate's proposal to increase revenue by allowing U.S. employers to hire an additional 30,000 highly skilled foreign workers a year for a fee of $500 per worker.




"The Senate Judiciary Committee is selling out the American worker for absolutely no good reason," Stein said.

Employers can hire a foreign worker under an H-1B visa if they certify to the Labor Department they couldn't find an American worker with the same skills in the United States.

The visas cost $2,190 per worker for large companies and $1,380 for companies with fewer than 25 employees.

U.S. employers are limited to a total of 65,000 of these H-1B visas a year. This year's quota was filled in about six months.

"Hundreds and hundreds of companies have informed Congress that this is an issue of critical importance if they're going to continue to be competitive," said Marshall Fitz, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "If you can't get the workers you need to turn the corner, you just stop growing."

Intel, New Mexico's largest manufacturer, is a strong supporter of H-1B visas. The company used 115 in fiscal year 2003, said spokeswoman Jennifer Greeson.

Stein says the H-1B program is full of loopholes and fraud, which some in Congress hope to close.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., tried to block the H-1B proposal during debate on the reconciliation bill.

"Senators are casting themselves as tough on enforcement and wanting to protect American jobs. Well, that pronouncement stands in stark, stark contrast to this effort," Byrd said.

Byrd could persuade only 14 other senators to join him. Both New Mexico senators, Albuquerque Republican Pete Domenici and Silver City Democrat Jeff Bingaman, voted against the Byrd amendment.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said the cap and fee increases would generate $45 million for scholarships and training for U.S. workers and $15 million to strengthen enforcement to make sure employers aren't abusing the H-1B visas.

But senators must negotiate with the House, which instead of raising the visa cap, chose to impose a $1,500 fee on U.S. companies when they transfer a worker from a foreign subsidiary to the United States. Such L1 visas are often used for temporary training or education.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau gets 95 percent of its $1.8 billion budget from fees.

In 10 years, the basic application for a green card, to allow permanent residency for an immigrant, has risen from $50 to $410. That includes $70 to pay for biometric cards with electronic fingerprinting.

To bring in a foreign orphan costs $545, plus $70 each for the parents for the electronic fingerprinting.

Under the latest fee schedule imposed in October, a couple with two children would pay more than more than $1,000 to naturalize the whole family - $330 for each parent, $250 for each child, plus $70 apiece for the biometric card.

"The new fee increase puts the dream of U.S. citizenship beyond the reach of many of our nation's immigrants and discourages applications (for citizenship)," said Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research for the National Council of La Raza.

Only about 15 percent of the immigrants to the United States since 1990 have become citizens, according to the Census Bureau. That's a far smaller percentage than immigrants in previous decades.

Citizen and Immigration Services officials have told Congress the fee increases were needed to increase security and reduce a backlog of 553,000 applications as of September, about 100,000 fewer than September 2004.


(Contact James W. Brosnan at BrosnanJ(at)

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