The evolving H-1B landscape

Part 5 of our series on industry trends looks at the impact of regulatory changes on the H-1B visa application process.

We have a unique vantage point here at untapt; we get to work with a spectrum of companies, ranging from early stage startups to global enterprises. Across the board, our clients face the perennial problem of attracting and retaining the right technologists.

Recently, we’ve noticed new trends that present challenges and opportunities for our clients. We thought we’d share some common themes.

If you’d like to discuss this or any other challenges you’re facing with the tech talent market, please do get in touch – we’d love to have a conversation

Trend 5: The evolving H-1B landscape

A little under a month ago, the President signed an Executive Order calling for increased scrutiny of immigration programs, and as a result, the debate surrounding H-1B visas has taken an unprecedented sense of urgency. This is of particular relevance to the tech industry due to the enormous demand for specialized engineering skills.

Here at untapt, we encourage employers to consider sponsoring international applicants for H-1B status in order to widen their consideration set. How do the potential changes in immigration policy affect our recommendations?

The H-1B: An overview

The H-1B visa class is a popular option for companies looking to hire foreign talent. It’s reserved for specialty occupations (i.e. skilled positions that require at least a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in training), and permits non-US citizens to accept employment for up to 6 years, and in some situations, beyond. Currently, a total of 85,000 H-1B visas are issued every year, with 20,000 set aside for applicants holding a Master’s degree or higher.

This year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received 199,000 petitions in the first four days of the application cycle. When the number of petitions exceeds the cap, the visa is granted according to a lottery system. Additionally, certain employment-based petitions could previously qualify for a Premium Processing Service, which guaranteed a 15 calendar day processing period. However, as of April 3rd 2017, USCIS announced that this service would be suspended for 6 months.

ImmigrationThe Reform

To date, changes imposed by the new administration have been unsubstantial. With the exception of suspending expedited processing, H-1B program requirements remain largely the same.

More significant reform is being worked on by Congress, where three bills with the potential to impact the H-1B process are under consideration. Potential changes include replacing the lottery system with one that prioritizes individual qualifications and industry needs, increasing the salary threshold, and mandating additional steps in recruiting. However, there’s a great deal of uncertainty as to whether any of the proposed legislation could be passed.

At untapt, we believe that the H-1B visa class represents a key mechanism for attracting top technologists. To illustrate this point, 64% of the 315,000 petitions filed in 2014 were for tech-related positions. The historically high occupancy rate of engineers amongst the H-1B population reflects a long-standing demand for external innovation, and has been proven to yield substantial benefits. The industry is actively working to ensure that reforms are grounded in a balanced and fair analysis of current economic trends; in the meantime, employers are strongly urged to remain open to sponsorship for exceptional candidates.

If you’re a startup looking to be connected with an immigration attorney to assist with the application process, we can recommend a firm that’s been very helpful for us. For advice on this, or any other thoughts and feedback, please do reach out to continue the conversation.

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Pei is a staff writer and honorary member of the untapt team. Currently finishing up her Master's degree at Johns Hopkins University, she's a serial multi-tasker and an avid supporter of the tech startup community. In her free time, Pei loves to get creative in the kitchen, explore the city, and take photos.