H-1B Visa Reach Cap within One Week for the Sixth Straight Year

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The filing period for H-1B visas - temporary work visas for highly skilled foreign workers - began Monday, April 2nd, 2018, for the upcoming 2019 federal fiscal year. The H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent. H-1B specialty occupations may include fields such as science, engineering and information technology.

The number of H-1B visas is capped at 85,000 (65,000 Bachelor's and 20,000 Master's degree holding applicants.) This year the cap was reached in the first week - for the sixth year in a row.

In February an announcement was made that USCIS would target H-1B petitions for third-party worksites. Later in March US Citizenship and Immigration Services reported it would suspend premium processing of H-1B petitions for the 2019 fiscal year.

Envoy Global, the maker of a platform to assist in securing global work permits, released a survey in February showing that 44% of employers say US visa applications have become more difficult, up from 35% in the previous year. It said 61% cited increased complexity as a primary factor increasing difficulty. The survey included 401 HR professionals from the US.

Additionally, recent report suggest that Indian IT companies in particular have dramatically reduced their H-1B visa filings. Other US based media state that the evidence suggests that the market demand for H-1B visas is falling. Searches related to the H-1B visa on one popular job posting websites are also decreasing for the thirteenth consecutive month indicating a trend rather than a temporary shift in the preferences of job seekers.

This difficulty and lack of interested related to the H-1B visa is leaving corporations to continue this struggle with a paradoxical labor market. Approximately 548,000 tech jobs remain open while unemployment in the technology sector hovers below full employment levels. There are many jobs open, but not enough workers to fill them.

If not to the United States then where is the talent going? Based on applications on a major job posting website, in 2018 it appears that the most popular destination for job seekers who conducted H-1B visa searches is Canada. A fast track program which allows highly skilled technology workers to enter Canada on a temporary visa is as little as two weeks is likely an incentive when compared to the process and timeline associated with the H-1B visa to enter the United States. How are employers able to augment their workforces despite the annual maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas set by congress for this year’s applications? We may be seeing more SOW (Statement of Work) engagements and an increase in the hiring of gig or informal workers to meet the demand for highly-skilled workers.

Despite reports of decreased interest in the H-1B visa program, applications for the visa still hit the 65,000 Bachelor’s Cap within just five days, confirms the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Based on data from the Pew Research Center the top ten metro areas for H-1B Visa Approvals between 2010 and 2016 include:

  • New York – Newark – New Jersey, NY-NJ-PA [247,900]
  • Dallas – Fort Worth – Arlington, TX [74,000]
  • Washington – Arlington – Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV [64,800]
  • Boston – Cambridge – Newton, MA-NH [38,300]
  • College Station – Bryan, TX [37,800]
  • Philadelphia – Camden – Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD [34,300]
  • Chicago – Naperville – Elgin, IL-IN-WI [29,900]
  • Houston – The Woodlands – Sugar Land, TX [28,900]
  • Atlanta – Sandy Springs – Roswell, GA [28,500]
  • San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara, CA [22,200]

What may surprise some is that the majority of approved H-1B visas do not go to Silicon Valley, or even California, but to New York and Texas. Along with other east coast metropolitan areas. This could potentially point to increased engagement of the informal or ‘gig’ workforce in California and areas west of Texas as well as an increase in SOW engagements as opposed to full time employment to fill highly skilled positions on a contract basis.