U.S. Labor Department targets H-1B visas with new grant for workforce training

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The United States Department of Labor announced Sept. 24, 2020, a $150 million grant in the ‘H-1B One Workforce Grant Program’ to invest in training for middle- to high-skilled H-1B occupations within key sectors in the U.S. economy. The key sectors it identified include information technology and cyber security, advanced manufacturing and transportation. The goa is “to upskill the present workforce and train a new generation of workers to grow the future workforce,” the DOL said in its press release.

During the Trump administration, efforts have been afoot to decrease the importance of the  H-1B visa program that brings high-skilled foreign workers to this country, and is highly favored by technology companies. Apart from the temporary ban of H-1B visa entrants because of Covid concerns, till the end of this year, other steps such as revising the definition of ‘specialty occupations’ by the Department of Homeland Security, etc., and the increase in denial of visa requests, are signs these skilled foreign worker visas are under threat.

Indians are the overwhelming majority to benefit from H-1B visas. Over the years complaints have surfaced against the program from critics and those Americans who contend they were displaced and replaced by H-1B visa-holders.There is also criticism that foreign workers are employed because companies can get away by paying them lower than the going wage for such skills.

According to DOL, the impetus for this program comes from a felt need resulting from the labor market disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, that has also forced many education and training providers and employers to rethink how to deliver training.

Through local public/private partnerships, grantees will be expected to deploy training “to provide individuals in their communities with skills necessary to advance career pathways to employment in middle- to high-skilled H-1B occupations within key industry sectors,” the DOL said. “Training models will include a broad range of classroom and on-the-job training, customized training, incumbent worker training, Registered Apprenticeship Programs and Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs.”

“The U.S. Department of Labor is challenging communities to think as ‘One Workforce,’” Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training John Pallasch is quoted saying in the press release. “In the current job environment, it is critical that local organizations work as one instead of independent parts of a process. Our goal is to create seamless community partnerships to build career pathways for local job seekers to enter middle- to high-skilled occupations in cyber security, advanced manufacturing, and transportation sectors.”

The public-private partnerships are expected to have a coordinated approach to preparing a skilled workforce within an economic region.

All applicants must demonstrate that they are leveraging at least 25 percent of the total amount of the grant funds requested, the DOL demands.

The following four types of organizations qualify as eligible lead applicants:

  • Businesses, business-related nonprofit organizations, such as industry and trade associations, and organizations functioning as a workforce intermediary for the express purpose of serving the needs of an industry;
  • Education and training providers, including community colleges, other community-based organizations, and for-profit educational and training institutions;
  • Entities involved in administering the public workforce system established under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; and
  • Economic development agencies.

Those selected for the training through this grant program must be at least 17 years old and not currently enrolled in secondary school within a local educational agency. They include unemployed and underemployed individuals seeking full-time employment, and incumbent workers needing to update or upskill to retain employment or advance into middle- to high-skilled positions. Veterans, military spouses and transitioning service members will receive Priority of Service, the DOL says.

 

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