The H-1B visa provides foreign nationals with an opportunity to live and work in the United States for several years. For American companies, the visa offers access to vast talent pool of skilled workers from all over the world.
With recent updates to H-1B visa policies, many people may wonder how many individuals are currently working in the U.S. courtesy of the H-1B program.
Below we explain the H-1B visa, current policies that may affect applicants and current visa holders and provide information about visa trends in recent years.
What is H-1B visa?
H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to non-citizens who hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
There are two categories of applicants within the H-1B visa: regular applicants and advanced degree holders.
Regular applicants are typically those who have earned a bachelor’s degree while advanced degree holders have a master’s degree.
H-1B work visas are issued by USCIS for an initial three-year term, which may be renewed for an additional three years. Visa holders are considered dual-intent, which means that they can adjust their status to an employment-based Green Card.
To be eligible for an H-1B visa, foreign nationals need to find a U-S.-based employer willing to sponsor the petition. To qualify for the visa, you must also provide evidence of relevant education, work experience and any other documents that can support your eligibility for a given speciality occupation at a sponsoring U.S. company.
An approved H-1B visa application means that you may live and work in the U.S. after obtaining a work permit and visa stamp.
H-1B quotas and lottery process
A limited number of visas may be issued each fiscal year by the USCIS. At the start of the fiscal year, the agency may receive H-1B petitions for at least five calendar days or when the annual quota is filled, whichever comes first.
There are usually more applications than quota spots and USCIS only receives petitions from April 1 to April 5. Sponsoring employers are responsible for filing the H-1B petitions so that applicants can be considered for the fiscal year’s H-1B applicant pool.
In FY 2017, USCIS received 198,460 visa petitions. This is slightly lower than the number of petitions submitted for FY 2016 and 2015, which are 236,444 and 232,973, respectively.
The current cap set by the U.S. Congress allows for a maximum of 85,000 selected petitions, a process that is decided based on two groups of applicants: regular applicants and advanced degree holders. 20,000 visas are reserved for advanced degree holders, while 65,000 visas go to regular applicants.
The 85,000 petitions considered by the USCIS are selected by a random, computer-generated lottery that selects which applicants can proceed to make a full H-1B application.
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Number of H-1B visas issued annually
In some cases, petitions are withdrawn or denied before the issuance of H-1B visas for that fiscal year. This typically leads USCIS to select more petitions than the ones initially selected during the lottery.
Data from the USCIS website reveals the precise number of applications filed with the agency over the past six years, along with details of the number of H-1B selections in the lottery. According its website, USCIS usually selects 12 to 16 percent more petitions more than the cap between FY 2013 and 2017.
The agency released information for FY 2017 stating that a total of 419,637 foreign nationals were present in the U.S. on an H-1B visa for the year. The number includes applicants approved during FY 2017, successful H-1B extensions as well as existing visa holders who previously received their approval and are currently living and working in the U.S.
Nationalities of most H-1B visa holders
Newcomers from India make up most of the H-1B visa holders currently living and working in the U.S. The USCIS data from FY 2017 shows that roughly half of the foreign workers present in the country on an H-1B visa are Indian—276,423 individuals.
Other nations with significant numbers of H-1B visa holders include China, Canada, South Korea, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Mexico, France, and Pakistan.
Most frequent H-1B employers
The H-1B visa is not geared towards a particular industry or company size. Small businesses and multinational corporations may also hire noncitizens on an H-1B visa, provided that employers can demonstrate that they have made sufficient efforts to hire American workers first for the relevant position.
Major companies in the U.S. are often at the top of the list for H-1B employers. Ernst and Young, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Deloitte Consulting, HCL America, and Apple were among the top sponsors for H-1B visas in FY 2018.Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Microsoft are prominent H-1B employers, while Amazon also has a significant number of H-1B petitions approved each year.
In recent years, consulting firms such as Tata Consultancy and Accenture have also hired significant numbers of H-1B visa holders. Most of the visas sponsored by such companies go to individuals working in fields such as computer science and IT.
H-1B application process
Sponsoring companies must file an H-1B petition on behalf of the noncitizen, which requires the submission of paperwork to both the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and USCIS. The first step involves filing a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the DOL, followed by the submission of Form I-129 with USCIS.
Employers are responsible for paying the filing fees for the H-1B visa, with fees being slightly higher if the company has more than 25 workers.
Regular processing can take a few months to complete. However, applicants may opt to choose premium processing to ensure a USCIS decision within 15 calendar days. Choosing premium processing is optional and will not impact the chances of an approval or denial of the petition.
Impact of Trump Administration policies on the H-1B visa
President Donald Trump recently signed the “Buy American. Hire American” executive order, signed on April 2017, has which led to several USCIS policy changes on the H-1B program. While the executive order did not create any new laws, it directed U.S. government agencies to increase their focus on eliminating fraud in visa application process which some analysts claim has resulted in more scrutiny on whether H-1B visa applicants hold sufficient work and educational experience for their proposed speciality profession.
Statistics from previous fiscal years show an increase in denials of H-1B petitions since the executive order. Denials were 4, 6, and 7 percent in FY 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively. The figure jumped to 15 percent for FY 2018, with predictions of further increases for FY 2019 and FY 2020.
Transitioning from an H-1B visa to a Green Card
Once an applicant obtains an additional three-year extension of their H-1B visa, no further extensions are available. The visa holder, however, is able to apply for an employment-based Green Card that can grant permanent residency in the U.S.
Several forms are involved in the Green Card application process, so H-1B visa holders are typically encouraged to begin the process as soon as possible. Some employers may even begin the application process within a few months of hiring a noncitizen worker.
The steps involved in applying for a Green Card with a sponsorship from a U.S. employer may include:
Applying for Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) certification with DOL
Submitting Form I-140 to USCIS after approved PERM certification
Submit Form I-485 to USCIS after receiving a priority date for the application from the agency
Applicants may face delays in processing Green Card applications due to USCIS backlogs, annual Green Card quotes set by the U.S. Congress and annual per-country Green Card limits. Applicants from densely populated countries may experience the longest delays in their application process.
During the Green Card application process, the H-1B visa holder may remain in the U.S. by applying for rolling one-year extensions to their visa. These extension petitions must be submitted before the start of the last year of the applicant’s permitted stay.
You can find more information about this particular visa in our ultimate guide to the H-1B visa. While the process of applying and obtaining the visa may appear daunting, this guide is intended to help simplify the process of starting your new life in the U.S. After you have been approved for your H1-B visa and are preparing to travel to the U.S., consider how you will live during your stay — especially how you manage your finances from setting up a bank account to managing your credit. In the U.S., credit history is important in securing things necessary for everyday life from credit cards to utilities and even your apartment.
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