Newly Revealed Statistics Show USCIS Quietly Nibbling Away at the H-1B Program

By David North on March 1, 2019

Newly revealed government statistics show that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), on a case-by case-basis, is nibbling away at the H-1B program while not making any obvious major policy changes.

There are something approaching 750,000 H-1B workers in the United States, all here on a temporary, legal basis, most of them college grads (along with a few models), with most working in high-tech fields. Congress has set annual ceilings for new H-1Bs at 65,000 for alien college grads generally, and 20,000 for aliens with U.S. advanced degrees, mostly a master's. There are, routinely, more H-1B workers on extended visas than on new ones.

The new data, which eased onto the internet with minimal governmental explanation, shows three trends:

  1. USCIS adjudicators are much less likely to rubber-stamp applications, and about two and a half times more likely to ask questions (called requests for evidence, or RFEs), in 2019 than in 2015.
  2. As a result of presumably inadequate answers to those questions, the approval rates have dropped from 95.7 percent in 2015 to 75.4 percent in the first three months of this fiscal year.
  3. A look at the approval rates for the top 30 H-1B users in FY 18, shows that the big Indian outsourcing companies (e.g., Cognizant, Tata, and Infosys), that provide workers to other firms, are much more likely to run into denials than the major U.S. high tech firms (e.g., Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple) that employ the foreign workers directly. For example, Cognizant, the biggest user of H-1Bs in that year, had an approval rate of 68 percent; meanwhile, Microsoft, the largest of the U.S. firms using these workers, and number six on the overall list, had an approval rate of 99 percent. These percentages, as we will show below, reflect the general treatment of these two groups of employers.

The RFE and approval rates generally can be seen here, while the new data on the denial and approval rates for the biggest 30 H-1B users is here.

Here's how the RFE rates have risen and the approval rates have fallen:

H-1B Approval Rates Fall as
More Questions Are Asked, FY 2015-2019

Fiscal Year H-1B
H-1B Requests
for Evidence
2015 95.70% 27.30%
2016 93.70% 20.80%
2017 92.60% 21.40%
2018 84.50% 38.00%
2019 (first three months) 75.40% 60.00%

Source: USCIS, as cited in text.

Here are the 2018 approval rates for the 10 largest H-1B users (Google, which came in 14th on the overall list, also had a 99 percent approval rate):

Approval Rates for the 10 Largest
Users of H-1B Workers, 2018

H-1B Users H-1B Approval Rates
Cognizant Tech Solutions 62%
Tata Consultancy Services 82%
Infosys Ltd. 74%
Deloitte Consulting 75%
Capgemini America 60%
Microsoft 99%
Amazon 98%
Wipro Ltd. 82%
Accenture 83%
Apple 99%

Source: USCIS as cited in text.

As is well known, the H-1Bs hired directly by the big tech companies tend to be better paid than those hired by the outsourcing companies, but some of the former also hired other H-1Bs indirectly, usually at lower rates, through the outsourcers.

In a future posting we will examine the impact of these governmental actions on the size of the H-1B populations; it appears on initial review that the size of the H-1B populations for the outsourcing companies, at least, may actually be shrinking.