The number of H-1B petitions filed in fiscal year 2017 exceeded that of previous years, despite rumblings from the Trump administration about curtailing the visa program. The number of petitions approved also hit a four-year high.
In fiscal 2017, employers filed some 403,675 petitions for H-1B visas, and 365,682 were approved, according to a recently released report (PDF) by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The vast majority of these petitions were filed by companies with 26 or more employees; over 67,000 were employers filing a second (or subsequent) extension of stay for an “H-1B nonimmigrant.” Compare that to fiscal 2014, when the number of petitions stood at 318,824 (with 315,857 approvals).
Some critics of the H-1B program assumed that President Trump would take quick action to curtail the visas once he entered office. “[H-1Bs] should be given to the most skilled and highest paid applicants, and they should never be used to replace Americans,” Trump told an audience in Kenosha, Wisconsin in early 2017, right before signing an executive order that directed the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, and State to review current H-1B policy.
Although the administration hasn’t undertaken sweeping reforms, it has made some minor policy adjustments that, cumulatively, have made it somewhat harder for immigrants to obtain visas. For example, USCIS now requires that H-1B applicants prove they are filling specialty roles; there’s also additional scrutiny around visa renewals. The White House is actively working to prevent the spouses of H-1B visa holders from obtaining the H-4 visas that would allow them to work in the United States, a move that has provoked a public response from six members of Congress.
But such moves aren’t enough for some critics, who believe the system needs to undergo radical adjustment. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently filed a lawsuit against USCIS, asking for data on the top 20 employers (and top 100 nonprofits) using H-1B visas, including salaries, visa approval rates, and more.
“While H-1B employers are required to pay foreign workers at market value, the fact is that flooding the labor market serves to drive down wages and limit opportunities for American workers,” Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI, wrote in a statement accompanying that lawsuit’s unveiling.
Now that the Trump administration’s smaller reforms have taken effect, it will be interesting to see if H-1B petitions (and approvals) plateau or even decline in 2018—or if the numbers continue to rise. Business owners will continue to push for the visas. “The restrictions on H1-B visas hurt the economy, my business and other businesses,” Colin Earl, CEO of Agiloft and a 27-year veteran of software industry, wrote in a statement sent to Dice. “Why wouldn’t we allow the brightest and best into the U.S. to work for U.S. companies? With the prospect of these employees becoming U.S. citizens and contributing to society, we should embrace them and not restrict their access to the country.”