WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate approved a large increase in H-1B visa fees on Thursday to help offset a $600 million "emergency package" to improve security along the Mexican border.
The fee increases, which also affect the L-1 visa, will help pay for 1,000 new border patrol agents and drones or unmanned aircraft, as well as long list of agencies, including prisons.
The Senate measure increases the H-1B visa application fees by $2,000 per application on those firms that have 50 percent of their employees on this visa.
This fee increase will have the biggest impact on the large Indian offshore firms, such as Infosys Technologies, Wipro, and Tata Consultancy Services, which use thousands of H-1B visas to service U.S. customers.
The legislation, introduced by U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and some other Democrats, passed by unanimous consent.
The House also passed a border security funding measure, one that calls for $701 million in spending, but it did not include an H-1B visa fee increase. Both chambers must now reconcile the two versions.
While the Senate's fee increase will also apply to the L-1 visa, it is uncertain whether it would only apply to those firms that are also H-1B dependent. The text of the legislation has not been released.
Another group of H-1B users that may be impacted by this increase are smaller outsourcing firms that dot office parks around the U.S. They include firms such as Logic Planet Inc., a New Jersey company that employs 95 software engineers, developers, and analysts, 89 of whom (93 percent) hold H-1B visas.
Logic Planet disclosed its headcount in court documents as one of the firms, along with the TechServe Alliance, an IT services industry group, which is challenging the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services over its interpretation H-1B rules.
The $2,000 increase may be added to the $320 H-1B filing fee, said Sarah Hawk, who heads the immigration practice at Fisher & Phillips LLP in Atlanta.
An H-1B visa's fees can add up. There are a number of other existing add-on fees as well: a $500 anti-fraud 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. And legal fees can range as high as $2,000.
Hawk said she suspects companies will try to recoup the fee from salaries or see if the individual can pay for it.
Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said the fee is a step in the right direction but doesn't go far enough to deter the "exploitive practices" of the visa program.