The US awards far more H-1B visas outside the cap even though much attention is given to the 85,000 temporary high-skilled visas issued each year through a computer-generated lottery, an American think tank said today.
A total of 345,262 H-1B petitions were approved in fiscal 2016, including 230,759 in uncapped categories, the highest level yet, the Immigration Policy Institute said in a detailed report on H-1B visas.
The report, it said, is based on the information it obtained from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) under Freedom of Information Act.
An average 212,000 such petitions were approved in each of the last five years, the think tank said.
"Rising demand for these uncapped visas is driven in large measure by the delays employers face in getting a green card for their H-1B workers.
"Indian H-1B workers, who face average waits of nine to 11 years depending on the green-card category, are particularly affected," said the report authored by two policy analysts Sarah Pierce and Julia Gelatt.
According to the report, almost one-third of all approved H-1B petitions in fiscal 2017 went to just 20 companies, even as 40,645 firms were approved to sponsor H-1B visas that year.
The top employers are either foreign consulting firms, some accused of using the visa to outsource US jobs, or US high-tech giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google, it said.
Among the top 20 firms, those with the highest share of H-1B visas pay less and employ fewer workers with advanced degrees, compared to companies that are less dependent on an H-1B workforce, said the Immigration Policy Institute.
Workers at H-1B dependent employers in the top 20 earned an average USD 82,788 in fiscal 2017, as compared to USD 110,511 for H-1B workers in top firms that are not dependent.
Just 27 per cent of H-1B workers in the dependent firms had a master's degree or higher, as compared to 55 per cent working for employers who are not H-1B dependent, it said.
Also the share of H-1B workers in computer-related occupations has risen from an average of 47 per cent between fiscal 2000-2009 to a high of 69 per cent in fiscal 2016.
The H-1B programme "has served as an important bridge to allow talented international students and others to stay and work in the United States. About half of H-1B initial applicants transit from another status, such as student or other types of temporary workers, while already in the US," authors Sarah Pierce and Julia Gelatt said.
Noting that the Trump administration has said it will make the biggest reforms to the programme since its creation in 1990, in part by redefining who and what types of employment qualify for the visa and how it is distributed, the authors conclude: "Whether these changes will prevent the use of the programme to replace US workers and/or will negatively affect businesses that use the H-1B legitimately remains to be seen".
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