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The labor shortage for skilled IT workers has caused companies to dig deep to find solutions for recruiting and retaining talented employees. One controversial option is to sponsor foreign workers to meet the demand. Admittedly, the immigration issue can raise emotions to a fevered pitch. But, public opinion aside, could this be a feasible solution for your enterprise?

The H-1B visa program
The H-1B visa program enables companies to sponsor foreign professionals with certain skills to fill positions in the U.S. The H-1B expires after six years. The complex process was streamlined with the Immigration Act of 1990, which limited the number of employment-based visas to 65,000 per year. In 1998, the Emergency Supplemental Act increased the number of visas allotted by Congress to 115,000 for fiscal years 1999 and 2000.

However, the H-1B visa cap for fiscal year 1999 was reached in June, according to a document recently filed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) with the Federal Register . As a result, the agency will not accept petitions for new employment before October 1, 1999. The cap for 2001 has been set at 107,500.

What you need to demonstrate to hire someone
When petitioning for permission to bring in a foreign employee, a company must fulfill certain requirements to obtain labor certification. These include:

  • Having a specific worker in mind: According to Los Angeles-based immigration attorney Carl Shusterman, programmers and analysts with scientific application skills set may be preferred over ones with solely business application ones.
  • Proving that there is not a sufficient number of qualified American workers: Federal laborcertification rules dictate that a company demonstrate that a forthright effort at recruiting American workers has been made. The company also must fully describe to the Department of Labor the qualifications of the position and the wage that will be offered.
  • Guaranteeing a fair market salary to the foreign worker: The wage offered must equal or exceed the prevailing wage and cannot be based on commission or bonuses unless the base wage is guaranteed.

Many of the foreign-born employees come from China and India, where many of candidates have advanced computer science degrees and several years of experience. A lot of companies have extensive recruitment operations or use agencies specializing in finding foreign workers, such as Resource Support Associates Inc. in Englewood, Colo.

How much does it cost?
If your enterprise is looking to sponsor a foreign worker, be prepared to pay between $1,500 and $2,500 in attorney fees and an additional $610 in INS filing fees. When the cap was raised last summer, Congress also increased the filing fee by $500 per worker surcharge to generate money to put into a fund for training U.S. workers. As Shushma Rajagopolan, vice president of global resources for Pennsylvania-based Mastech Corp., was quoted as saying, “Yes, the filing fee has gone up dramatically. Nonetheless, we’ll continue to recruit from all over the world.”

Furthermore, if your company is caught in violation of the new regulations, the fines could be as much as $35,000. So this is not a cheap foreign labor proposition.

How long does the process take?
As we mentioned earlier, no new applications will be accepted until October 1999. Shusterman said the application process for getting a foreigner into the U.S. could take as little as 15 to 30 days at the INS Service Center in Vermont to four months at the INS Service Center in California.

For more information:
This process can be extremely complicated, and it may be advisable to seek legal counsel to help navigate the process. Here is a list of available resources on the Internet.

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