The number of applications for the H-1B visa, heavily relied upon by India’s tech industry, has fallen for the second year in a row. For the 2018-19 season (FY 2019), which would permit successful visa applicants to work in the United States (US) from October 1, the US agency received 1.90 lakh applications as against nearly 2 lakh applications last season. A fall by 8,902 applications or 4.5 per cent as compared to 2017-18 is miniscule and shows the continued interest in this category of work visas.
From 2013-14, year on year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has had to resort to a lottery mechanism, as the number of applications far exceeded the annual quotas. The number of applications had hit a peak in 2016-17 with 2.36 lakh applications. If current year’s figures are compared with this peak statistic it is a decline of 19.5 per cent in the number of H-1B applications.
USCIS had opened its doors to H-1B applications on April 2 and on April 6, it had announced that it had received enough H-1B applications to reach the general quota cap of 65,000 as well as the cap of 20,000 for advanced degree holders (from US universities) also known as the Masters cap.
In its latest release, USCIS states that on April 11, it used a computer-generated random selection process (lottery) to select enough H-1B applications to meet the quota caps. Two lotteries were run. The first selected enough applications to meet the Master’s cap quota of 20,000. All unselected master’s cap petitions then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 cap, explains USCIS in its statement. Thus, the second lottery chose from roughly 1.70 lakh applications.
Fragomen, a global firm specialising in immigration laws states: “This year, general cap filings have roughly a 38 per cent chance of selection in the lottery. The odds for the advanced degree cases are somewhat higher because these filings get a second change for selection, if they are not chosen in the initial lottery. The overall chance of selection this season is approximately 45 per cent.”
USCIS will now begin the process of rejecting and returning all unselected applications with their filing fees unless the applications violated the rules against multiple filing.
Selection in the lottery process does not mean an automatic grant of the H-1B visa. USCIS last year had increased the number of requests for evidence – evidence was being sought on whether the occupation for which the visa was being sponsored was ‘specialised’. Those with entry level wages faced challenges in obtaining a visa. This year, according to immigration experts, the extreme vetting by USCIS (which increases the processing time) will include questions relating to not just ‘specialisation’ but the sponsor will also have to prove that the visa aspirant will be placed in non-speculative work during which the sponsor will maintain the requisite employer-employee relationship, even as the job is carried on at a third party site.