Evolution of the H-1B: Latest Trends in a Program on the Brink of Reform
Though much attention focuses on the 85,000 temporary high-skilled visas issued each April through a computer-generated lottery, in reality far more H-1B visas are awarded outside the cap: An average 212,000 such petitions were approved in each of the last five years.
A total of 345,262 H-1B petitions were approved in fiscal 2016, including 230,759 for continuing workers—the highest level yet. Rising demand for uncapped visas is driven in large measure by the delays employers face in getting a green card for their H-1B workers. Indian H-1B workers, who face average waits of nine to 11 years depending on the green-card category, are particularly affected.
This issue brief takes stock of changing trends in the at-times controversial program. Among the 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.