A report from the Washington, D.C.-based think tank The Brookings Institution shows Columbus has the second-highest per capita rate of visa applications for foreign engineers and computer scientists of any metropolitan area in the nation. The payments for those visas should help fund high-tech training in Columbus, but officials say none of the cash has made it to Bartholomew County.
For every 1,000 workers in Columbus, there are about 14 requests from highly-skilled foreign workers to come to Bartholomew County to work – most of them for diesel engine manufacturer Cummins. The federal government’s H1B visa program charges employers such as Cummins to process the visas and then puts that cash into a pool.
The federal Employment and Training Administration administers the money –about $628 million over the last ten years – and then doles it out to communities which apply for grants to train their existing workforces. In essence, foreign workers pay to help train employees who already live and work in the places where their visas go.
There’s just one problem for Columbus says Neil Ruiz, the lead author of the Brookings report — none of that cash has come back to Cummins or anyone else.
“The data that we have shows that from 2001 to 2011 nothing has gone to Columbus, Indiana,” Ruiz says. “So I think that we would suggest that the federal government target the H1B visas fees program for Columbus, Indiana, as well as metropolitan leaders apply for them. That way they could upgrade the skills of their local workforce.”
Ruiz could not say how much money Columbus would be eligible for, but says local government and education leaders should start asking the federal government for it. The cash is designed to fund training for people in the so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.