The H-1B visa program, established in 1990 by Congress, allows employers to hire foreigners to work in “specialty occupations” (such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, health care, business, financial services, or life sciences) on a temporary basis. In 1998, a user fee was added to fund scholarship and training programs that develop the skills of the existing U.S. workforce in high-demand fields that employ large numbers of H-1B workers. Those fees have underwritten over $1 billion of U.S. Department of Labor-managed technical skills training programs designed to reduce or replace the need for foreign skilled labor.
Two recent programs funded through this authority are H-1B TechHire Partnership Grants and the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI). These programs, paid for through grants to specific localities, are designed to provide supportive services that address the unique and varied challenges facing people who have barriers to employment while at the same time offering a range of training strategies to address their skills deficits. The goal is to prepare individuals for middle- and high-skill jobs in high-growth H-1B industries. TechHire gives young adults and special populations accelerated and specialized skills training. SWFI provides flexible training for jobs in H-1B growth industries and provides parents with access to affordable, quality child care. These programs aim to make training more accessible and shorter, and to connect disadvantaged populations to high-growth sectors of the labor market.
In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor, Chief Evaluation Office, awarded Westat (which is leading the study) and MDRC a contract to conduct an evaluation of the TechHire and SWFI programs. The evaluation comprises a quasi-experimental study and an implementation study of the 53 TechHire and SWFI grantees. A subset of the grantees will also participate in a randomized controlled trial led by MDRC. The evaluation will assess the extent to which TechHire and SWFI training and support services help people obtain employment in middle- to high-skill jobs. The evaluation results will help federal, state, and local policymakers learn what job-training approaches and support services might best help people secure employment in high-demand sectors and increase their earnings.