H-1B visa approvals flat this year after post-2017 drop

As recently as 2015, the approval rate for the controversial H-1B visa was within a few digits of 100 percent. But under President Donald Trump’s 2017 “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, federal authorities have ramped up scrutiny and denials of the visa.

After 96 percent of H-1B applications were approved in 2015, and 94 percent in 2016 and 92 percent in 2015, the approval rate began to drop under Trump. In 2018, the rate was 85 percent.

Now, just-released data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows that the rate of H-1B approvals in the government’s fiscal year 2019 stayed at 85 percent.

The drop to lower approval rates has coincided with an increase in “requests for evidence” the agency has made to the companies applying for the visa, which is intended for jobs requiring specialized skills. While 2015 through 2017 saw slightly more than 20 percent of applications subjected to these demands for information proving an application is valid, the rate jumped to 38 percent in 2018 and 40 percent this year, the new data showed.

The Trump administration has taken aim at the visa — awarded through a vastly oversubscribed lottery — after reported abuses by outsourcing companies, which critics say use the visa to supply cheap foreign workers to clients, including major technology firms. Tech giants, including in the Bay Area, push for an expansion to the annual 85,000 cap on new H-1B visas, arguing that they need more of the visas in order to secure the world’s top talent.

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