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October 25, 2018

H-1B Program: 10-Year Trends

(By Preston Huennekens)

A recent data release from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) included a 10-year trend of characteristics in petition filings of the H-1B visa program. The H-1B program allows companies to hire temporary workers in specialty positions. Usually, the positions that H-1B visa-holders fill are STEM jobs and other roles that require advanced education and specialized knowledge.

The data released by USCIS provides information about the workers that companies sought permission to sponsor; not all of the workers covered in the report were approved or admitted to the United States. Nevertheless, the data is interesting and reveals trends in use of this program from 2007 to 2017.

Over the 10-year period, employers sought to bring approximately 3.4 million workers to the United States. Of these, 2.6 million were approved. The program has become incredibly popular in recent years with the explosion of growth in the tech industry. Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Facebook, and Apple have relied on H-1B workers for years, and these foreign workers make up a significant percentage of their workforce. Tech companies benefit from the program because they are able to pay similarly-qualified foreign workers less than what American workers in the same position earn.

Throughout that period, USCIS approved approximately 77.5 percent of the petitions it received. The number of approvals declined significantly from 2016 to 2017, from 348,162 to 197,129. Equally important, the rate of approvals dipped significantly, from 87 percent of applications approved to 59 percent approved in 2017.

The H-1B program has a cap of 65,000 each year, although USCIS policy states that the first 20,000 applications for recipients of master’s and doctorate degrees are exempt from this cap. Additionally, universities, research institutions, and government agencies can sponsor an unlimited number of workers, entirely exempt from the cap.

 

Applicant Country-of-Origin

Most of the H-1B filings are for citizens of India. Indeed, individuals from Asian countries constitute the overwhelming majority of total filings, accounting for just over 82 percent of petitions in 10 years. Since 2007, India and China have remained first and second for the total petitions.

Country                                    10-Year Total       Pct. of Total

  • India                   2,183,112            64%
  • China                   296,313                 70%
  • Philippines 85,918                   50%
  • South Korea 77,359                   30%
  • Canada 68,228                   2%

 

Interestingly, almost all other countries besides India and China have sent fewer and fewer petitions since 2007. The Philippines has particularly fallen short in recent years. In 2007, there were 12,230 applications compared to just 3,161 in 2017. South Korea demonstrates a similar pattern. In the future, many will be curious to see whether China and India continue to dominate the program or if other rapidly developing countries will begin to file more petitions.

 

Age

The majority of petition beneficiaries in the H-1B program were between the age of 25 and 34. Individuals in this category made up 69 percent of all petitions. The next highest group were individuals aged 35 to 44, who made up 22 percent of the positions.

The average age is very young, although this should not be entirely surprising given that most of these petitions are for occupations in computing and technology fields.

 

Occupations and Compensation

Given the widespread use of the H-1B visa in Silicon Valley and tech-related industries in general, it is not surprising that the majority of petitions are in the computer science and engineering field.

Category                                                                      10-Year Total       Pct. of Total

  • Computer-Related                   2,008,315            59%
  • Architecture and Engineering 318,670                 9%
  • Administrative Specialization 245,304                 20%
  • Education                                     244,608                 10%
  • Medicine and Health                   185,050                 5%

 

An interesting note is that the compensation has risen sharply since 2007. The average wage has grown 26 percent, from $68,159 to $92,317 per year. The median grew by a similar amount (28 percent), from $60,000 to $83,230.

 

Education

The USCIS report includes a breakdown of educational attainment. First and unsurprisingly, the vast majority of beneficiaries had at least a bachelor’s degree. In fact, over a 10-year period, the majority of beneficiaries had education beyond a bachelor’s degree, holding either master’s, professional, or doctorate degrees. One reason for this is almost certainly the 20,000 reserved “spots” for individuals holding advanced degrees.

There also are a relatively small number of applicants, about 12,000 over the 10-year period, who have less than a college associate’s degree. One of the requirements for the H-1B visa is that the individual must hold a bachelor’s degree, but there is a provision allowing for “experience equivalent to a college education” instead of an actual college degree. One can’t help but wonder what types of occupations and workers would qualify for that exception.

 

Conclusion

USCIS’s 10-year trend data on the H-1B is useful for researchers to understand the impact of the program since 2007. In April, President Trump issued an executive order directing a review of the H-1B program, particularly on its effect on American wages and jobs. Many analysts have found that H-1B positions are usually paid significantly less money than the market value for such positions. This saves the institution or company that hires the H-1B visa holder a significant amount of money, and means that they can rely on the program to provide them with a steady supply of cheap, qualified, but non-permanent employees. Whether President Trump’s executive order and the “Hire American, Buy American” focus affect the H-1B program in any meaningful way remains to be seen, but if the preliminary 2017 figures are sustained, American workers who compete with H-1B workers may finally be getting a break.

 

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