H-1B visa filings at historic low as Indian firms opt to hire local in US

The United States announced on Thursday a historic fall in the number of petitions it received for the 2019 hiring cycle under the H-1B visa programme that allows American companies to hire foreign professionals, most of whom have come from India for years.

The US Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS), which runs the programme, said in a statement that it received “1,90,098 H-1B petitions during the filing period, which began on April 2, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption”.

This is the lowest number of applications the US recorded since 2007, when 3,14,621 petitions were received at the USCIS website. The numbers have since fluctuated, but the first precipitous drop was in 2017 from 3,99,349 to 3,36,107.

US branches of Indian IT companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro have been major recipients of H-1B visas, and they have declared they were cutting foreign hirings and in the face of rising opposition to their business model.

The push back has been bipartisan, but never so consequential. The bulk of the drop in H-1B petitions is understood to have been caused by fewer filings by Indian companies, continuing a trend first noticed in 2017.

The United States grants 65,000 visas annually to professionals hired abroad and an additional 20,000 to foreigners enrolled in US schools, colleges and universities. The overall congressionally mandated cap is 85,000.

But the agency has received manifold applications every year forcing early closure of the application process. The huge number of applications was also due to the introduction of a computer-generated lottery to select approved petitions a few years back.

There was no immediate response to questions mailed to USCIS for reasons for the massive and unprecedented fall (43%) this year, and whether it had anything to do with the Trump administration’s unrelenting attacks on the programme in the name of preventing its use, and abuse, to displace American workers.

But there has been widespread acknowledgement that the numbers are dropping mostly on account of Indian IT companies operating in the US that have faced heightened scrutiny. They have been accused of using the programme to take away jobs from Americans.