Filing season for H-1B visas begins April 1 for the 2020 federal fiscal year. It’s expected the number of requests for such visas to exceed their Congressionally mandated cap, although the number of petitions for such visas has been trending downward since federal fiscal year 2017.
“There’s no question about it,” said Mark Roberts, CEO of the TechServe Alliance, the national trade association of the IT and engineering staffing and solutions industry. “All indications are demand is strong and it will outstrip the cap.”
Employers need skilled workers, and the number of US professionals with required qualifications isn’t sufficient, Roberts said. However, challenges have been mounting as the federal government makes it more difficult for workers to get such visas. The government has also targeted firms that place H-1B professionals at third-party worksites  and is looking to restrict some H-1B spouses  from getting jobs. The TechServe Alliance noted IT employment  ticked down in February as employers have difficulty finding skilled IT talent.
H-1B visas go to highly skilled foreign workers such as IT professionals. However, the number of such visas are capped each year at 65,000 with an additional cap of 20,000 for those who have advanced degrees from the US.
Applications have exceeded the number of visas available under the caps within the first week such visas are accepted each year since federal fiscal year 2014, which actually began Oct. 1, 2013. However, the number of petitions requested has declined to 190,098 in fiscal year 2019 from 236,000 in fiscal year 2017.
|Federal Fiscal Year||Petitions received||Fiscal year begins|
|2019||190,098||Oct. 1, 2018|
|2018||199,000||Oct. 1, 2017|
|2017||236,000||Oct. 1, 2016|
|2016||233,000||Oct. 1, 2015|
|2015||172,500||Oct. 1, 2014|
|2014||124,000||Oct. 1, 2013|
The new fiscal year also brings a change  as the government will reverse how it selects H-1B petitions when it holds a lottery to determine who will get the H-1B visas when more petitions are received than available under the caps. Under the change, the government would randomly select petitions until it reaches the 65,000 cap. Then it would randomly select additional petitioners with advanced degrees until the 20,000 cap is reached. This is the opposite of what has been done in the past, and could increase the number of those with advanced degrees receiving H-1B visas. The government has also proposed a new electronic registration system, but that is on hold until the 2021 fiscal year.
Jacob Sapochnick, attorney in visa law at the Sapochnick Law Firm in San Diego, said he is seeing demand for H-1B visas as the season is set to begin.
“I definitely still think that there is a demand for those visas,” Sapochnick said. “We haven’t had a drop in cases that we process.”
However, he said the changes – including the electronic change coming next year – could prompt more people to file this year because they don’t know what will happen in the future.
Sapochnick also cited concerns with the government’s efforts to get tougher on H-1B visa holders with more professionals being excluded from H-1Bs. For example, the USCIS ruled those working in marketing and social media advertising don’t require a degree, so now those occupations are among those being highly denied H-1Bs. In reality, most working in those occupations do have degrees, he said. There’s also been a crackdown, especially on India-based companies providing workers to a third-party worksite.
While not yet effective, plans to curtail the H-4 work permit for spouses H-1B holders pursuing a green card will have a negative impact on the morale of spouses because they won’t be able to work, Sapochnick said.
Last week, US Citizenship and Immigration announced it resumed premium processing for all H-1Bs, offering expedited processing time. However, the TechServe Alliance’s Roberts cautioned it’s difficult to predict when the government may again curtail premium processing. This uncertainty around the visas creates a chilling effect for both the companies and the workers. And lack of premium processing lengthens wait time, making it tougher on H-1B holders, as they can be wary of making moves among companies without assurance they will have the visa in place.