H-1B Approval Rates Surged in Fiscal Year 2021


Data recently released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has shown that in the 2021 fiscal year from October 2020 to September 2021, the agency had record H-1B visa approval rates. The USCIS recorded an impressive 97.3% approval rate which many credit to the shift in approach to immigration for the agency as it transitioned under the new administration.

During the 2021 fiscal period, the USCIS received 398,267 petitions for both initial employment and renewals, reflecting an immense demand which experts attribute to the high demand for tech workers. Despite the immense numbers of petitions and an approval rate which was the highest in the decade, the USCIS also broke expectations during the year by conducting a rare second lottery to meet its 85,000 visa quota for the year due to the travel restrictions caused by the global pandemic.

The current administration has shifted its approach toward immigration, taking a less restrictive approach than the previous administration, which applied considerable restrictions toward the granting of immigration benefits. This included encouraging immigration officers to apply highly conservative viewpoints in judging whether or not to grant H-1B applications. According to some law firms, this included denying even genuine applications for H-1B visas.

Throughout fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the approval rate for H-1B visas had dropped to 84.5%, which led to considerable difficulty in receiving approval for workers who would be placed in third-party worksites. Eventually, this was resolved through litigation that resulted in a higher rate of approval in the fiscal year 2020 as the previous administration came to an end.

This can be seen by visa approvals over the prior five years:

  • Fiscal Year 2017: 92.6%
  • Fiscal Year 2018: 84.5%
  • Fiscal Year 2019: 84.8%
  • Fiscal Year 2020: 91.4%
  • Fiscal Year 2021: 97.3%

Notably, the current administration has recently withdrawn a rule that would have fundamentally changed how the H-1B system is administered. This rule had been facing a considerable challenge in court, resulting in a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacating the rule late last year.

The U.S. has also recently proposed rejecting the lottery system in favor of a selection system that would decide between petitions based on ranking and wage levels. However, this proposal has faced extreme resistance from business groups as well as others.

Immigration lawyers have expressed approval with the current administration’s current application of H-1B rules, including the high rate of approvals. This has allowed H-1B workers to fill the many gaps employers have had as a result of the global pandemic. Many have also expressed hope that the high approval rates will continue as the high demand for labor continues.

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