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Acceptance rate of H1-B visas continues decline

February 28, 2019

The share of H-1B applications approved by United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) in FY 2018 was well below the levels in FY 2017 and FY 2016, and new data from the first quarter of FY 2019 shows a continuing downward trend. In FY 2018, there were nearly as many H-1B visa denials (61,346) as there were in the previous two fiscal years combined (29,856 in FY 2017 and 23,032 in FY 2016), while there were more denials of H-1B applications in the first quarter of FY 2019 (24,851) than in any previous quarter since FY 2015. Furthermore, the number of cases challenged by the government has tripled since the start of the Trump administration.  

Although the majority of H-1B visas go to larger metropolitan areas, they are still an important source for skilled talent for many of the innovative companies and universities that anchor regional economies across the country. As a result, changes to the H-1B system are not just an immigration issue, but an economic development issue as well.

The chart above shows the share of H-1B visa applications that were approved (blue) and where the administration requested additional information (green) for each quarter since the beginning of FY 2015. Immigration officials were most likely to require additional information in cases where they felt the job in question may not qualify as a "specialty occupation," there was an invalid employee-employer relationship, or where they felt the position would not last for the duration of the applicant's tenure with the company, according to Silicon Valley Business Journals.

Notably, some of the country’s largest technology companies received nearly every award for which they applied, according to USCIS data. Meanwhile, many IT staffing firms saw their numbers plummet. Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook each received more than 98 percent of the petitions that they submitted. Companies like Infosys and Capgemini, whom critics say outsource tech jobs, received less than half of their petitions in FY 2018.

In November, SSTI covered recent research on how restrictions on H-1B visas have historically had negative impacts on economic growth. By the end of fiscal year 2019, it is likely that more changes are coming to the H-1B program. Earlier this month, SSTI looked at the new H-1B visa rule changes that would increase the number of awards going to applicants with degrees from U.S. institutions. Last week, the Trump administration proposed regulations that could lead to the termination of the H-4 EAD program, which the spouses of H-1B visa holders use for work authorization.  This change could further reduce the desirability of H-1B visas, and provide uncertainty to skilled immigrants currently living and working in the United States.

For technology hubs across the country, especially those anchored by research universities, H-1B visas play an important role in attracting and retaining skilled talent, according to a Pew report released last year. Even in areas with a relatively small number of H-1B approvals, there are standouts in the share of these workers with advanced degrees.



immigration, workforce