H-1B Applicants: Purer than Ivory Soap?

By David North on July 4, 2011

Ivory Soap is famously "99.44% pure", but as far as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is concerned, its H-1B applicants seem to be even more pristine – they are 99.52 percent pure, or at least approvable.

USCIS is widely known as the agency that loves to say "Yes!" to aliens seeking benefits, but the extent of that enthusiasm was not clear until the Center for Immigration Studies obtained – after waiting more than a year – some statistics through the agency's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process.

CIS wanted approval/disapproval statistics on each of the many sets of immigration decisions it makes every year; what was the percentage of approvals/denials of petitions filed by citizens for their spouses? Petitions for investors? For various classes of alien workers?

This sort of information is routinely available from the State Department regarding its decisions to grant or deny visas, by visa class, and has long been a matter of public record. CIS wanted comparable data from USCIS, but those numbers routinely have been kept secret.

Well, USCIS either handled the FOIA request incompetently, or it deliberately mishandled it to avoid revealing key Yes/No data on application decision-making – a subject to be treated in a future blog – but CIS did learn something.

The heading on the little table that USCIS sent to us was "I-129 Non Immigrant Visa by Category FY 2009" and it showed 27 different categories of petitions regarding employment visas, including the big H-1B category (208,067 mainline applicants) as well as the tiny P-3S category, servants and support personnel for culturally unique artists and entertainers (103 applicants). There were also 469 H-1B applicants among fashion models. The table provided numbers of approvals, denials, and total applicants.

In the mainline H-1B category there were 998 denials, meaning that 99.52 percent of the petitions were approved, yet another indication of how loosely the government runs its multitudinous nonimmigrant worker programs that flood American labor markets. (There were no denials in the models category, or in the H-1B for the Defense Department category, a class that drew only 14 applications.)

The percentage of approvals for all 27 categories, when totaled, was a tad higher, 99.64 percent.

The 99.44 percent claim for Ivory Soap, incidentally, dates back to the 19th Century, and its origins are shrouded in mystery. One explanation, favored by the New York Times is that a early advertising writer wandered into a Procter & Gamble laboratory and found that a chemist had been researching the ingredients of the soap and, after adding them up, he found that he could account for 99.44% of the makings. The ad man took it from there.

When I was writing copy for Palmolive Soap, a rival product, decades ago, I had the vague impression that P&G had decided that a 100 percent pure claim would be unbelievable, and so settled for a slightly lesser percentage, one with memorable double numbers, 99 and 44.

Next: How USCIS and the U.S. Treasury handle FOIA requests on immigration matters.