This is what bringing money back to the United States means. Under the old tax law, companies often attributed legal control of profits to foreign subsidiaries, so that they could defer paying taxes on this money. However, the money was often actually held in the United States since Apple could tell the subsidiary to keep the money wherever it wanted.

For this reason, the economic significance of bringing the money back to the United States is almost zero. The legal change of ownership is leading to the collection of taxes, but this is in lieu of the considerably larger tax liability that Apple faced under the old law.

It would have been helpful if these points were made more clearly in this NYT piece. It does usefully point out that we don't know the extent to which the expansion plans announced by Apple would have occurred even without the tax cut.

 

Addendum

It is probably worth also mentioning that the $2,500 one time bonuses that Apple said it is giving its workers (paid in stock) is a bit less than 0.5 percent of the tax savings on their foreign earnings as calculated by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which is cited in the article. This assumes that all 84,000 Apple workers get the bonus.