Wednesday, May 18, 2005

foreign postdoc barriers - unintended consequences

As of March 8th 2005, and new H-1B visa, or transferred visa requires a $500 "fraud prevention" fee to be paid by the employer to the federal government.
This is ~ $30-40 million for the feds, nominally presumably to check that each applicant is genuinely a genuine expert in their field of employment (H-1B is temporary employment visa for experts - used a lot for comp engineers and other technically qualified experts in short supply; including academic postdocs in scientific fields).
Fair enough, wouldn't want a terrorist or something slipping through (not that H-1B is the route of choice, one would naively think...); and the computer companies can pay...

But, the universities are charged as well; and there is a rider - you can't use grants to pay the fee.
Presumably this clause was primarily intended to stop companies from just billing the fee back to government contracts, has to come out of their profits; but universities don't work that way.
The clause effectively requires the fee come out of unrestricted funds; university's own money - now some universities have a lot of that - endowment funds essentially - not that it means the administration will part with it for the researchers.
But most don't. So this either comes out of operational funds (ie recycled tuition) or the very rare actual unrestricted funds, and there's always some - they pay for things we're not allowed to use grant money for (including moving fees for postdoc hires, some entertainment expenses, foreign travel, odd miscellaneous expenses restricted from grant billing, and emergencies).
But there is not very much of this money in a typical university. And if a foreign postdoc costs an extra $500 each upfront, from unrestricted funds, that is a significant (but generally surmountable) barrier to hire. This will lead to general reluctance to hire a foreigner.

That may be unintended (or not - though I suspect the primary target was companies, not universities), but unfortunate.
There are already disincentives to scientists to come to the US, this is another little barrier on top of all the other ones (cd this from Sean.

In the medium term, this will do damage to US science; a little bit, but it cumulates.

Bad policy.


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