Employers Are Less Interested in H-1B This Year Than Last

By David North, April 17, 2017

The Department of Homeland Security announced today that there were 199,000 applications for H-1B foreign worker visas, a noticeable drop from the previous year when there were 236,000 applications.

The congressionally set cap each year for these visas is 65,000 for those with bachelor's degrees and 20,000 for those with U.S. master's degrees or PhDs; there is no limit on the issuance of such visas to universities and those entities regarded as related to colleges and universities. So something like 100,000 new H-1B visas, usually good for three years, are issued each year.

The Trump administration did not try to make fundamental changes in the H-1B program prior to the annual spring filing, but last month it did cancel the usual offer of premium processing for $1,250 per petition.

This faster-than-usual offer was used extensively in the past. The mostly highly prosperous users of this program — which produces skilled workers for bargain prices — were restive about the cancellation of premium processing, which shoved all the employers, if you will, into tourist class seats.

DHS used its usual lottery approach to distribute the visas; those for workers with advanced degrees are handled first; the applications not chosen at that level are mixed in with the bachelor's level degree applications, so alien workers with advanced degrees (and their employers) have two chances to win the lottery, while most applicants have only one. Critics of the program have argued that the program (which is much larger than needed) should allocate visas by an auction method of some kind. This would make it less depressing on wages in the industries, such as IT, where it is widely used.

The most recent estimate of the total number of H-1B workers, as of FY 2013, was set at 460,179 by Daniel Costa of the Economic Policy Institute. While I respect Costa's work, I think the number was somewhat higher that year, and has grown since.

Those arguing for even more H-1B visas usually speak in terms of the 85,000 cap, and not in the more realistic terms of the total population of these workers.