Main image of article H-1B Denials Still High for Consulting Firms... But for How Long?

A recent analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) showed that, after years of steadily rising, the denial rate for H-1B visa applications had leveled off by the third quarter of fiscal year 2020. At least some of that flattening had to do with how the U.S. government processes applications—but there’s still quite a bit of speculation about whether the denial rate will begin rising again once Joe Biden is inaugurated President.

In the meantime, it’s worth looking at which tech companies and consultancies have been hit the hardest by these denials. NFAP analyzes long-term H-1B trends, so we can see how that denial rate has shifted between 2015 and 2020 (NFAP draws all of its data from the USCIS H-1B Employer Data Hub). As you might expect (and can see from the following chart), business-services and consulting firms such as Infosys and Cognizant have taken the biggest hits in recent years, while the denial rate at some of the largest tech companies, while elevated, hasn’t changed all that much:

If there’s a legacy to the Trump administration’s attempts to reform the H-1B, it’ll probably be the policies designed to reduce business-services and consulting firms’ use of the visa. For years, critics have argued that those companies abuse the visa to bring in cheaper workers, undercutting what American technologists. 

Those business-services and consulting firms have intermittently tried to push back. Earlier this year, for example, many of them launched a lawsuit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), arguing that they deserved a $350 million refund on H-1B visa application fees. In 2018, the IT Serve Alliance filed a lawsuit that accused USCIS of approving visas for too short a term (weeks, rather than the “standard” three-year term). Other fights are also working their way through the court system.

Despite that pushback, USCIS and the Trump administration have remained locked on this reform path. The rising rate of denials, along with some other recent administrative moves have been “designed to protect U.S. workers, cut down on frivolous petitions, strengthen the transparency of employment-based visa programs, and improve the integrity of the immigration petition process” (to quote a USCIS spokesperson speaking to Mother Jones last year).

The Trump administration’s recent attempt to adjust minimum wages for H-1B workers could ding consulting firms still further. Although the “average” salary for H-1B workers at many firms is often quite high, that number doesn’t represent the totality of what people on the visa actually get paid. The other big question, of course, is what immigration moves the Trump administration might make in its final weeks before Biden comes into office.