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Rising Denial Rate of US H-1B Visas 4 Times Higher in 2019

Applicants for American H-1B visas have seen a steady and growing rise in rates of visa denials in recent years. Several changes made by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have worked to raise standards for approval, making it much harder for those seeking temporary working status in the United States to be approved. For American companies looking to hire international talent, these restrictions have been felt significantly in the past two years.

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The National Foundation for American Policy has found that denial rates for H-1B applications have risen from 6% in 2015, to 33% through the second quarter of 2019. To put this in context, between 2010 and 2015, the denial rate for American H-1B visas never passed 8%. Today the denial rate is 4 times higher. 

YearDenial Rate of H-1B Petitions for New Employment

The American H-1B visa is a popular option for those seeking temporary status in the United States, and allows foreign nationals with specialized knowledge to work for an American employer and get on the path to a U.S. Green Card. The availability of H-1B visas have traditionally allowed American businesses to hire international talent, and have been critically important to the development of American tech sectors like Silicon Valley. 

USCIS Enacts New Policies Limiting H-1B Access

The rise in H-1B denials, and growing restrictions around H-1B visa access, link back to decisions made by USCIS to raise the standards of proof for approving visa applications. The enactment of these policies began in April 2017 with the issuance of Donald Trump’s “Buy America Hire America” executive order, which promised to “rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad”. 

Added restrictions to the H-1B application process have occurred without changes to American law or new USCIS regulations. American litigation attorney Jonathan Wasden describes the changes as: “USCIS has systematically rewritten the fuels on H-1B visas, without following the law, and destroyed any sense of predictability in the system”.  

American Tech Companies Bear the Brunt

All but two of the 27 top employers of H-1B visa holders reported an increase in denials of visa applications between 2015 and 2019. 9 of these top companies report this increase being over 40 percentage points. Major information and tech companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are no longer able to hire the international talent that has been the foundation of success to their American offices.

Employer2015 Denial Rate for H-1B Petitions for Initial Employment2019 Denial Rate for H-1B Petitions for Initial Employment
Ernst & Young0.3%43%

Looking Northward to Canada

As American companies and foreign workers continue to be met with more restrictive access to H-1B visas, many are beginning to look northward to Canada. While the U.S. makes it harder for skilled workers to gain status, Canada has pledged to welcome more economic immigrants than ever before. With a historic plan to accept up to 350,000 newcomers each year for the next three years, skilled workers are finding it easier and faster to make Canada their home. 

What’s even better? The fastest Canadian economic immigration pathways result in permanent resident status, meaning those selected are able to live and work anywhere in the country permanently! A nationwide need to fill skilled jobs means that Canadian immigration programs are quickly adapting to bring more skilled workers to the Canadian workforce, with jobs in technology and information sectors being the fastest growing in the country.


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