Fees for H-1B visas could jump in coming years, according to the Trump Administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget.

“In FY 2020, the Department’s budget includes $160 million to continue our expansion of apprenticeship programs, along with a proposal to increase H-1B fee revenues to fund additional apprenticeship activities,” R. Alexander Acosta, the U.S. Secretary of Labor, said in prepared remarks (PDF)to a Senate committee on May 2. 

Last year, the Labor Department launched a sector-based apprenticeship grant program, aimed at expanding apprenticeships in “those in-demand industry sectors most often filled by individuals on H-1B visas,” Acosta added, “such as information technology, health care, and advanced manufacturing.” The program has a private-sector match requirement; companies have contributed $57.7 million out of $202.5 million.

In other words, the federal government could use the increased money from H-1B applications to fund more STEM-based apprenticeships for American citizens. However, budget proposals are always subject to negotiation and change, and it remains to be seen whether this one will survive its inevitable trip through Congress. 

An increase in H-1B fees would align with President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, which he signed two years ago. Intended to “protect the economic interests of U.S. workers and prevent fraud and abuse in employment-based visa programs,” in the words of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the executive order has resulted in tightening of H-1B policies (and the potential elimination of the H-4 EAS, which allows spouses of H-1B visa holders to obtain work).  

Critics of the H-1B program would dearly like Trump to eliminate the program entirely, but such a move would invite massive pushback from the tech firms and staffing agencies that claim they need the visa in order to effectively operate. Indeed, thecap for H-1B visas for fiscal year 2020 was hit within days of opening, following the trend of previous years; it seems unlikely that companies would balk at paying higher fees for H-1B processing and approvals. 

Nonetheless, the lottery system that doles out H-1B visas could change within the next few years, provided USCIS gets its way. Under the latest proposal, all applicants (including those with advanced degrees) would enter the 65,000-visa “general pool”; any highly-degreed applicants who failed to make the cut during that first round would get a second opportunity as part of the “master’s cap” pool of 20,000 visas.

That proposal is an inversion of the current system, which puts those applicants with advanced degrees into the smaller “master’s cap” pool before sending them into the “general pool.” Such a shift might be good for tech firms that truly need employees with advanced degrees and highly specialized skills, but it likely won’t cool any controversy over the overall H-1B program.