We now have H-1B data for all four quarters of fiscal year 2019, which emphasizes a trend that’s been underway for the entirety of the Trump administration: denial rates for the visa are way up compared to the pre-Trump years, and consulting and business-services firms are seeing the biggest impact.
The National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) regularly digests and analyzes data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Its previous breakdowns of H-1B data (including the most recent one in October 2019) have shown that USCIS is enforcing a tighter legal standard when it comes to H-1B petitions, firing off additional Requests for Evidence (RFEs) in an ever-higher percentage of cases.
With four quarters of fiscal year 2019 data in hand, the NFAP’s new report (PDF) makes it clear that the denial rates for initial H-1B petitions remains much higher than pre-2016 years. Take a look:
Moreover, NFAP provides a company-by-company breakdown of H-1B denials. It’s illuminating to see how drastically things have changed for some companies since 2015:
As NFAP’s latest update makes clear, Indian consulting firms such as Tech Mahindra have experienced the steepest declines over the past four years, and now account for 6 percent of the 85,000 H-1B petitions for companies (that’s 0.003 percent of the U.S. labor force, if you’re keeping store at home).
“Denials may have contributed to this decline but the primary reason for the drop in H-1B visas is a choice by companies to build up their domestic workforce in the United States and rely less on visas,” NFAP wrote in a note accompanying the data. “Moreover, these and similar companies are part of an industry trend when servicing clients to use more digital services, such as cloud computing, ‘bots’ and artificial intelligence, which require fewer workers.”
That’s good news for those critics who feel that the H-1B visa is a tool that technology companies use to bring aboard talent at artificially suppressed prices. But that being said—and as the NFAP data makes clear—the rate of denials has crept down slightly over the past year, while Dice’s separate analysis of USCIS data shows that the rate of initial H-1B approvals (as well as approvals post-RFE) has crept up slightly. In other words, it remains to be seen whether the denial rates will continue to decline precipitously over the next year, or whether we’re going to see things beginning to level off.
In addition, other trends—most notably automation—could end up having a seismic effect on employment over the next decade or so. H-1B is a major issue in tech, especially in certain cities, but it’s not the only one that could determine how companies and employees operate in coming years.