UPDATE: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 190,098 H-1B petitions for the FY 2019 filing season, eclipsing the congressionally-mandated visa cap but falling short of the number of applications in past years.
By comparison, USCIS received 199,000 petitions in 2017 and 236,000 petitions in 2016.
Proportionately, the agency received far more applications that count against the H-1B master's exemption compared to the regular cap, which allows for the allotment of 20,000 and 65,000 visas, respectively. This year, USCIS received almost 96,000 master's cap petitions, while the regular cap only received about 94,000 petitions.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reached the H-1B visa cap for FY 2019 Friday, receiving 65,000 regular cap petitions and 20,000 Master's exempt petitions. This filing season marks the sixth consecutive year the agency reached the H-1B cap within five days.
- Though the agency has not yet disclosed how many petitions it received this year, it is standard for the number of applications to more than double the congressionally-mandated cap. Last filing season, USCIS received 199,000 visa petitions, a number which is still more than double the cap, but it was down 15.6% compared to the 236,000 petitions received in 2016.
- In the coming weeks, the agency will use a computer-generated lottery to select petitions to fill the cap. If petitions are not selected, the agency will reject the applications and return filing fees. USCIS will continue to process H-1B applications exempt from the cap.
Even with tweaked adjudication policies making it more difficult to apply for an H-1B visa, it was certain the cap would quickly fill this year, as it has in past years. Demand for visas has not decreased, even as the application process has become more rigorous.
The competition for visas is born out of necessity. National unemployment has remained low, and seven out of 10 HR professionals struggle to fill STEM positions, according ot Rebecca Peters, director of government affairs at the Council for Global Immigration. The H-1B process helps augment access to talent, allowing organizations to capitalize on both foreign and domestic talent.
Experts believe changes to the adjudication process have a chilling effect on high-skilled immigration, pushing applicants to look toward other countries for employment. If Congress doesn't address the H-1B program, and potentially extend the cap, then the market will adjust accordingly, which could hurt business in the U.S.
So many companies are willing to sponsor H-1B workers because increased competition for talent has made it challenging to find American workers to fill positions.
"I have never talked to an employer who wouldn't rather have hired an American instead of paying thousands of dollars to an attorney and thousands more dollars in government filing fees all for a less than 50% chance that they might get to employ the worker six months from now in H-1B status," said Jennifer Minear, immigration lawyer from Richmond, VA, in an email statement to CIO Dive.
As USCIS goes through the process of selecting winning petitions in the lottery, it does not mean applications chosen in the lottery will ultimately receive a visa. Adjudication changes make it harder to have a visa approved. "Given the degree of scrutiny applied to H-1B petitions in the last 15 months, petitioners should expect more requests for evidence and potential denials for their cap-subject H-1B petitions," said Peters, in an email.