The Visa System
Before one can understand what the numbers mean in an H-1B petition analysis, it’s necessary to have an idea of what the visa system includes. Established in 1990 through the Immigration Act of 1990, visas are controlled and policed through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Under the H-1B visa, a potential beneficiary must have a qualifying employer willing to sponsor their petition.
While other visas allow unskilled laborers to enter the US for employment purposes, the H-1B visa only permits highly qualified skilled foreign workers who have the skills and experience necessary to fill specialty occupations.
The H-1B program has evolved and devolved depending on the political climate of the United States. For instance, Donald Trump made it clear through his “Buy American and Hire American” executive order that he was actively attempting to restrict immigration.
President Joe Biden’s administration followed Trump in office and has actively sought to reduce any damage done by Trump’s anti-immigration policies, but set forth proposals to increase the H-1B visa application fees and prevailing wages for hiring foreign laborers. These changes would still permit companies to hire outside workers but would make it more financially challenging.
Similarities Between 2022 and 2023’s H-1B Petitions
So if the H-1B program has always had its ups and downs since its inception, what’s the big deal about 2022 and 2023’s petitions? To begin with, both years continued to hold on to the annual cap mandated by Congress of 65,000 regular visas and 20,000 visas for advanced H-1B applicants.
The application window begins in March or April and closes when USCIS announces it has enough registrants to meet the cap. Registrants are selected and notified that they may continue to file a petition. If approved, the visas become effective on October 1, which is the start date of the new fiscal year.
In 2022 and 2023, as was expected, the number of registrants hit record highs. This may be due in part to the ease of registration. Previously, employers completed the entire petition and paid the full fees to process an H-1B registration, leaving USCIS with too much paperwork to go through timely and a large number of reimbursements to make to those not selected.
In 2020, this changed to an electronic registration with a non-refundable fee of $10. 2021 saw the impact of the pandemic on the visa system, halting most petitioners. But by 2022, companies took advantage of this easy registration system, willing to do the bare minimum necessary to potentially secure their beneficiary’s spot. By 2023, the number of registrations skyrocketed — as did the amount of potentially fraudulent registrants.
Analyzing 2022 Versus 2023
Digging into the numbers, let’s start with the number of registrants. In FY 2022, USCIS approved 442,043 H-1B applications, which was a substantial number higher than the previous four years under the Trump Administration. But in FY 2023, the number of applications requested went up 61% to 780,884. (Remember, the cap is a total of 85,000.)
All of these applications aren’t approved for various reasons, including the cap and those who don’t qualify. But in FY 2022, the denial rate for initial employment was 2%, a record low since the program’s beginning. (The Trump Administration saw a record high of 24% in FY 2018.) The denial rate for FY 2023 continues to fluctuate as USCIS investigates the massive number of potentially fraudulent or incorrectly filed petitions.
Another discrepancy between 2022 and 2023 is the tech industry. While thousands of visas went to those in this sector in 2022, mass layoffs toward the end of the year and in early 2023 meant H-1B holders needed to find new sponsors, switch to a new visa class, or head back home. This problem impacted 2023’s visa demand.
As often happens when demand outweighs supply, there are those willing to cut corners to get around the system or, in other words, commit fraud. FY 2023 saw a record high in this area, with many registrants submitting fraudulent applications, lying about aspects of the job, paying workers less than the agreed-upon prevailing wage, or using the H-1B system to displace American workers. USCIS recently implemented stricter countermeasures to combat these fraudulent attempts.
With millions of jobs unfilled in America’s labor shortage crisis, the demand for skilled workers remains higher than the number of visas allotted. If FY 2023’s fiasco of fraudulent registrations brought any good, it’s that USCIS has admitted the need for a program overhaul. This may include changing the cap number, which many opponents claim is obsolete.
In the meantime, Visa2US is here to answer all of your H-1B visa program questions and guide your steps to optimize your chances of success in obtaining and keeping yours.