Trump Administration Policies Failed to Curb H-1B Application Rates

Although the Trump administration enacted numerous policies designed to limit the use of the H-1B, new data suggests those actions did little to curb companies’ appetite for the visa.   

The New York Times recently crunched years of H-1B application data from USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and found that, although the visa’s annual cap has remained unchanged since 2004, the number of applicants has steadily risen since 2014. After declining somewhat between 2017 and 2019, the height of the Trump years, applications spiked to their highest levels in 2020 and 2021:

In 2021, companies submitted 308,000 H-1B applications. That flood, combined with USCIS’s more stringent review policies, means a hefty percentage of applications will end up rejected. Companies everywhere are very aware of those numbers, and yet feel optimistic enough to apply anyway.

For business-services and consulting firms, applying for an immense number of H-1B visas is also the core of their business model, as these companies subcontract thousands of workers to clients across the country. For years, controversy has raged over how much these consulting firms pay these H-1B subcontractors, versus what the latter earn when sourced directly. According to the H-1B Salary Database, for example, Tata pays a median H-1B salary of $67,766, while Accenture pays $94,400. Compare that to Google, where H-1B workers make an average of $144,285, or Facebook, where the average comes to $159,597.

Between 2016 and 2020, the Trump administration unleashed H-1B policies at a relatively rapid cadence. Many of these policies seemed aimed at reforming the visa; for example, USCIS instituted a more stringent review policy that increased the rate of application denials, while the administration proposed reforming the H-1B lottery system to favor applicants with advanced degrees and higher salaries. Other policies seemed more punitive, including the (failed) attempt to end the H-4 EAD (which allows spouses of H-1B workers to find employment in the U.S.), as well as the temporary ban on all work visas for 2020, which angered many tech CEOs

With the end of Trump’s term, the Biden administration seems to have little appetite to continue many of these policies, although Biden’s immigration reforms include a proposal to prioritize H-1B visas based on higher wages. If the USCIS under Biden reverses its stringent review policies and reform proposals, particularly the ones that focus on business-services and consulting firms, the rate of H-1B applications could potentially accelerate in the years ahead.

10 Responses to “Trump Administration Policies Failed to Curb H-1B Application Rates”

  1. Jake Leone

    H-1b applications did fall for a while under Trump. And the overall The acceleration rate did drop under Trump, compare to the four years before Trump (that being the Obama administration). You can see that in your graph, are you not looking? Wait, oh I forgot, your are not an engineer, you don’t understand acceleration,

    The only policy change by Trump that would have led to fewer H-1b applications, is the change to a salary based allocation of H-1b visas, from the current, and idiotic, random lottery method of distributing H-1b visas.

    Ask any immigration lawyer and they will say the change to a salary based allocation is “dumb”. But that is only because such a change will cut in half the number of H-1b applications filed, and therefore half the business of the immigration lawyers in this arena.

    Such a change would also have kicked the Offshore Outsourcing companies out of the H-1b program, altogether. And just by doing that, we would see the current 1-in-4 chance that Silicon Valley companies have of obtaining an H-1b visa, fall to a 1-in-2 chance. And in doing so, the backlog of H-1b visas demand would drop to such that there would be a surplus of H-1b visas.

    Definitely the fact that Facebook (and all the other Big Tech employers) are in fact finding 30+/(per job ad) more local STEM/IT candidates than they can actually hire (but would hire if Americans were actually allowed to compete for these local jobs). That by Facebook’s own admission to Federal investigators, in an indictment filed after the election. (You can view that indictment on the U.S. DOJ website). But apparently you can never have enough indentured servants. And that is exactly what a person waiting for Green Card is, an indentured servant, unless they are willing to return to abject poverty back in their home country. And Big Tech will protect such indentured servants from actually having to compete for a job here in the United States.

  2. The fact that the H1B applications fell for a short period of time has zero importance. The H1B visas are a fixed number and applications are always much higher than visa numbers, they all get filled anyway.

    On the other hand, It is obvious that these IT companies will keep hiring more and more H1Bs. Productivity is at its highest ever, revenues skyrocketing, prestige of these companies doesn’t get harmed for hiring H1Bs and IT unemployment is lower than ever. It would be stupid not to hire more foreign talent.

    • Jake Leone

      Actually acceleration and deceleration are important factors to consider. Especially when you consider that half of the H-1b visas are being taking by Offshore Outsourcing companies.

      In January 2018, if Offshore Outsourcing companies had been discouraged from using the H-1b program (say by switching to a salary based allocation). All, non-Offshore-Outsourcing H-1b visa requests would have been fulfilled.

      If that had happened, then in the following year, the carryover of unfulfilled H-1b visas would not have occurred, and the graph would have remained flat (or actually) dipped, and remained flat until today.

      For the most part, what some consider an acceleration of demand, is actually a carry-over of demand from the previous year. If you can fulfill the requests (say by removing Offshore Outsourcing companies from the Federal Government program called the H-1b visa) then would have been no acceleration in the graph presented.

      Acceleration and the way that we alleviate the acceleration (by making wise choices about what companies should recieve H-1b visas). Could have flat-lined the entire graph, at or hovering around the total number of generally available H-1b visas in recent years. If we had implemented the change to a salary based allocation during the Obama administration, we would actually have seen a large surplus of unused H-1b visas throughout the year.

  3. With COVID rampage in India and a ban of all flights from overseas, I am wondering why there are still so many H-1B applications? Even if the got approved, they can’t come to USA? For remote work you don’t need a visa?

  4. steve

    I think the intent was to cut the number of applications being approved rather than the number being submitted. But the Trump administration was so lazy in how they approached everything that it didn’t occur to them to just send all those applications to a shredder.

  5. Tito Deluxe

    This is a no brainer. BIG GOV = BIG TECH
    Big tech gets credit and potentially subsidies to push h1b paperwork/legal.

    There is NO real free market in America. It’s BIG TECH market. Mom and Pop companies can’t compete with BIG tech, leading to failure in most cases.

  6. Scott

    As I recall, the idea for reforming the h1-b program was to require American companies to hire American engineers first and if the position could not be fulfilled by these engineers then the firm can provide the proof so they could hire from the h1-b source. However, the salary or pay rate for h1–b engineers would be the same as for American engineers versus the significantly lower rate.

    What I have experienced during the interview process, American workers are frequently deemed unqualified. This then allows hiring from the h1-b applicants getting around the intent of employing qualified American but would be paid much less.

    The reformation seemed fair in that h1-b engineers would no longer be taken advantage of by their employer assigning them to the positions in America at a significantly lessor salary or pay rate.

    Qualified engineers from h1-b should be paid the same amount as qualified Americans.