2021 witnessed a steep rise in H-1B approval rates


The H-1B visa approval rate for fiscal 2021 was the highest in a decade, even as pandemic-related travel restrictions meant that the American immigration agency had to conduct a second visa lottery in order to meet its quota of 85,000 visas for the year.

According to data released by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the approval rate for H-1B visas in fiscal 2021 — from October 2020 to September this year — was 97.3%.

The agency received 398,267 petitions for initial and continuing employment, or renewals, during the period. Immigration watchers attributed this to the high demand for tech talent in the US, as demand for digital transformation swept across sectors.

The high approval rate also reflects a shift in the approach of the US administration towards immigration under President Joe Biden.

“Biden’s fair and liberal approach towards immigration is unlike the Trump administration, which was highly restrictive in granting immigration benefits to immigrants. Under the prior administration, USCIS officers were directed to take very conservative views in approving H-1B applications. There were several instances previously wherein genuine & bonafide applications were denied in H-1B matters,” said Naresh Gehi, founder of Gehi & Associates, a US-based immigration law firm.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the US withdrew a rule that would have changed how the H-1B visa process is administered.

The decision by the Department of Homeland Security comes after the US District Court for the Northern District of California vacated the rule in September.

In January, the US had proposed to modify how the H-1B visa applicants are selected, moving away from a lottery-based system to a selection based on ranking and wage levels. Several industry bodies had spoken up against it, claiming it would impact the ability of American enterprises to attract skilled talent.

The US Chamber of Commerce and others had also filed lawsuits against the proposed rule, which resulted in the court verdict.

“I firmly believe that the H1B laws are now being applied correctly and fairly, explaining the spike in approvals. Also, after this global pandemic of Covid-19, it has become challenging to find workers in many specialty occupations.”

“To ensure that the gap is bridged, H-1B workers need to be brought into the US leniently, as approving the right candidates is the best possible approach during such critical times,” said Gehi.

He said the current demand for high-skilled workers and the skills gap in the US meant that high approval rates would continue, at least under the current administration.