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As Brief, Competitive Window for Employers to Apply for H-1B Visas Nears, MPI Finds Most Such Visas Are Issued Outside the 85,000 Cap

Press Release
Wednesday, March 28, 2018

As Brief, Competitive Window for Employers to Apply for H-1B Visas Nears, MPI Finds Most Such Visas Are Issued Outside the 85,000 Cap

WASHINGTON – With demand for H-1B high-skilled visas far outstripping supply, employers are gearing up to mail in applications on April 2, the day the lottery opens this year for 85,000 of the temporary visas. But most H-1B visas are awarded outside the cap, with an average 212,000 such petitions approved annually in the last five years. A new Migration Policy Institute issue brief finds that the rising demand for uncapped H-1Bs is driven in large measure by the delays employers face in getting a green card for their H-1B workers.

Employers such as universities and research organizations are exempt from the 85,000 cap, as are existing H-1B holders who are renewing their visa or are changing employers.

A total of 345,262 H-1B petitions were approved in fiscal 2016, including 230,759 continuing employment applications—the highest level yet. The increases result largely from petitions by continuing workers, many of whom are in extended H-1B stays as they await a green card—particularly Indian immigrants, who face average waits of 9 to 11 years depending on the green-card category.

With more workers staying for longer periods as they wait for a green card, there is a growing pool of H-1Bs in the United States who renew their visa beyond the typical six-year limit. Even as Indian renewals are rising, with Indian workers representing 80 percent of petitions approved for continuing work, the brief also finds that Chinese immigrants represent growing numbers of initial applicants.

The issue brief, Evolution of the H-1B: Latest Trends in a Program on the Brink of Reform, takes stock of changing trends in the at-times controversial program, which the Trump administration appears poised to adjust via regulatory action later this year.

Among the brief’s top findings:

  • Almost one-third of all approved H-1B petitions in fiscal 2017 went to just 20 companies, even as 40,645 firms were approved to sponsor H-1B visas that year. The top employers are either foreign consulting firms, some accused of using the visa to outsource U.S. jobs, or U.S. high-tech giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google.
  • Among the top 20 firms, those with the highest share of H-1Bs pay less and employ fewer workers with advanced degrees, compared to companies that are less dependent on an H-1B workforce. Workers at H-1B dependent employers in the top 20 earned an average $82,788 in fiscal 2017, as compared to $110,511 for H-1B workers in top firms that are not dependent. And just 27 percent of H-1B workers in the dependent firms had a master’s degree or higher, as compared to 55 percent working for employers who are not H-1B dependent.
  • About 71,000 spouses of H-1B visa holders have received work authorization under a 2015 policy that the Trump administration has signaled it plans to end.
  • The share of H-1B workers in computer-related occupations has risen from an average of 47 percent between fiscal 2000-2009 to a high of 69 percent in fiscal 2016.

The H-1B program “has served as an important bridge to allow talented international students and others to stay and work in the United States. About half of H-1B initial applicants transition from another status, such as student or other types of temporary workers, while already in the United States,” write authors Sarah Pierce and Julia Gelatt.

Noting that the Trump administration  has said it will make the biggest reforms to the program since its creation in 1990—in part by redefining who and what types of employment qualify for the visa and how it is distributed—the authors conclude: “Whether these changes will prevent the use of the program to replace U.S. workers and/or will negatively affect businesses that use the H-1B legitimately remains to be seen.”

Read the brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/evolution-h-1b-latest-trends-program-brink-reform.