Sound Bend launches High Skill Immigration Fund
The city of South Bend is looking to assist companies who want to hire highly skilled international employees. The city this week launched the High Skill Immigration Fund, which will help offset expenses to sponsor H-1B visas for eligible employees. “We have world-class universities with top global talent and high demand skills in this region, and this fund will add to South Bend’s reputation as a city where everyone can thrive,” said Mayor James Mueller.
Caleb Bauer, executive director of community investment for the city, said employers take on a level of risk in sponsoring an H-1B visa applicant because the number of visas awarded annually are finite.
“So what that can look like is an employer might have a candidate that is eligible for an H1-B visa, meets all the requirements but ultimately doesn’t get selected in the H-1B lottery,” said Bauer. “If the employer sponsored that candidate’s visa application, they may have paid somewhere in the ballpark of $6,000 to $8,000 in processing and legal fees to support that candidate’s application. And then if it’s not selected in the lottery, the business can be out those funds.”
H-1B visas are given to workers in specialty occupations that requires “highly specialized knowledge” and at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Bauer said those types of jobs could be in technology, engineering and manufacturing, among others sectors.
The High Skill Immigration Fund would provide a 50/50 matching grant to de-risk a portion of the funds needed to support a visa applicant.
Applications for the fund will open on March 20, following the federal deadline to file non-cap-except H-1B visa petitions. Any business with an office in South Bend that is subject to the visa lottery can apply for matching funds to help cover processing costs.
Bauer said the program’s benefits are two-fold.
“We want to make it easier for employers to look at this as an option to fill high skill gaps in their workforce, and also make sure that we’re doing our most our best to get new residents here in south bend,” he said. “For South Bend, our goal is really to continue our population growth that other areas of the state. We’re just really getting started on growth. And we want to keep our population moving in the right direction.”
Businesses who have been involved with the H-1B process have expressed interest in the fund, Bauer said, but there is also demand from other companies.
“There are employers who have been facing workforce issues who have come to us and said, ‘We’d be interested in exploring the H-1B visa process, but we don’t have a lot of expertise in utilizing it; we’ve never tried it before, and we’re a little concerned about the risk.'”
The city has appropriated $300,000 from the redevelopment commission for the fund. About $80,000 is being used for operational costs with the remainder going to the matching grants.
Bauer said the fund will be a proof of concept to see if it will make a difference for employers on pursuing H-1B visas.
“For us, it’s really tracking the outcomes that we’re gonna get from these matching grants. “How many successful applicants are there? How many end up being selected in the lottery? And then over the longer term, do they end up staying here in South Bend, pursuing potentially the green card process, or if they make it through the green card process, potential naturalization? And what does that do for our community at large? Those are the metrics that we’re tracking.”
Bauer said the project could serve as a model for other areas throughout the state.
The city is partnering with local nonprofit EnFocus to hose educational events for employers and local international students and residents. The first is a virtual webinar scheduled for Thursday at 12 p.m.
You can learn more about the High Skill Immigration Fund and the webinar by clicking here.