Money & Banking

American dream: H1-B visa applications at a three-year high in first half of FY20

Venkatesh Ganesh Mumbai | Updated on May 04, 2020

Amid immigration suspension and high rejection rates in the last few years, H1-B visa applications in the first half of 2020 are at a three-year high. According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and ratings agency CARE, applications were received for 217,000 H1-B visas betweenOctober and March. Of this, 85.3 per cent have been processed.

In comparison, in the same October-March period, the number of H1-B applications were at 198,000 in 2019, with 79.8 per cent of the visas processed. In H1 2018, the number of H1-B applications were at 189,000, with 81.5 per cent of the visas processed. Every year, 65,000 H1-B and 20,000 L-1 visas are granted, which includes renewals.

Suspension category

Interestingly, this development needs to be seen in the backdrop of a temporary immigration suspension in the US as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. However, USCIS has clarified that H1-B, which is a non-immigrant visa, does not fall under the suspension category.

Also, the rise in the number of applications is despite the US government making H1-B visa rules stricter as part of the ‘Buy American and Hire American’ order passed in 2017.

Over the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of visa applications that were ordered Request for Evidence (RFE) by the USCIS. RFE is a notice sent out by the USCIS to the applicant, requesting additional evidence. Once the applicant submits the evidence, a decision is taken on whether to approve or deny the visa.

In the first half of 2020, almost half of the visa petitions came under RFE. Around 41.7 per cent of the total H-1B visas petitions were processed after ordering an RFE and, of these, 67.8 per cent were granted an H-1B visa. As an example, random compliance visits have gone up significantly. “They (authorities) now come up to our door and ask for documentation of workers, whether they fit the definition of specialty workers, cross-check their salary slips, and even whether they are getting paid on time,” some on-site employees working for Infosys, Wipro and Cognizant had told BusinessLine in 2019.

Indian software services companies, the major users of H1-B visas, have had it tough in the last few years. Visa rejection rates were around 30 per cent in 2019, and two Indian companies were among the top 10 visa recipients.

“Since the last few years, scrutiny has gone up and any discrepancy makes the visa approval very difficult,” said Rohit Turkhud, Partner, Fakhoury Global Immigration.

The higher applications and processing of H1-B visas may not result in higher people movementlike in the past in the short to medium term. “Given the current lockdown, travel is expected to slow down in the next 3-6 months, and with work from home protocols, more work is expected to be done remotely with the aid of digital tools,” said Raja Lahiri, Partner, Grant Thornton India.

Bleak job scene

The job situation is worsening in the US, and according to the industry watchers, a whopping 21 million jobs are expected to go away in April. Dan Nandan, who runs Hire IT People Inc, is of the view that many H1-B visa holders are now in a dire situation and may face lay-offs.

Published on May 04, 2020

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