Erickson in the News: H-1B application numbers fall for second year in a row

Trisha Thadani | April 12, 2018

The number of H-1B applications for the next fiscal year dipped for the second year in a row — a trend experts say could be influenced by the current administration’s “America First” rhetoric and a rise in scrutiny of companies’ petitions.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency said Thursday that it received 190,098 H-1B applications for the next fiscal year, a 4 percent drop from 2017, when 199,000 applications were filed. It is also a sharp decline from its peak in 2016, when the government received 236,000 applications.

The dip comes after years of steady increases in applications for the visa, which allows foreigners to live and work in the U.S. for three to six years. Tech companies large and small, particularly in Silicon Valley, have come to rely on the visa to staff engineering positions.

Only 85,000 visas are granted to for-profit companies every year, a number set in 2005 that hasn’t budged despite the rise in demand.

Companies apply for the visa on behalf of the foreigner they want to hire, and the visas are doled out through a lottery held on the first Monday in April each year. Nonprofits like hospitals and colleges are exempt from the cap, so their petitions don’t go through the lottery.

Under the Trump administration, officials doubled the number of “requests for evidence” issued, which are documents asking for more proof that a position requires a foreigner’s special skills. At the same time, the government also increased its number of denials, according to government data obtained by The Chronicle last year.

Experts say the threat of more requests for evidence and denials could have deterred some companies from using the program. It could have also pushed foreigners to seek out other countries with seemingly more welcoming immigration policies, such as Canada.