On April 11, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services completed its latest H-1B visa lottery. This year, the USCIS received 190,098 petitions for H-1Bs—temporary work visas that U.S. companies can apply for to hire foreigners for specialty roles. That number was down from 199,000 last year and was the lowest in six years. Still, the number of submissions was much higher than the number of available visas. Each year, the U.S. government gives out 85,000 H-1B visas, of which 20,000 are reserved for those with master’s degrees.
The winners of the H-1B lottery will be notified by the end of May. While those who hope to stay and work in the U.S. await their fate, we spoke with international student career expert Marcelo Barros. We asked Barros about the latest submission numbers as well as the state of the H-1B visa system and foreign work conditions under the Trump administration. Below is an excerpt from that conversation.
VAULT: The number of H-1B applications was down this year. What does this mean? Is this a sign of anything?
BARROS: It’s a pretty terrific number overall. Despite the government attempts to scare U.S. employers from hiring international workers by making the H-1B filing process unnecessarily more complex, the minimal and almost unnoticeable decline in H-1B applications demonstrates that U.S. employers are still interested in hiring international students. That said, I consider the total number of H-1B applications to be a failure for Trump’s administration. The still relatively large number of visa applications indicates that U.S. employers aren’t accepting Trump’s Buy American and Hire American executive order signed in 2017. The 190,098 number serves as evidence that it’s okay for international students to have a healthy disregard for President’s Trump’s clear anti-immigration views.
VAULT: What does the number of applications mean in terms of the odds of an international student securing an H-1B visa? Better or worse than in year’s past?
BARROS: International students with only an undergraduate degree will have a 36 percent chance of being selected by this year’s H-1B lottery. So, roughly, only one out of three students will get lucky. As usual, the USCIS didn’t disclose a breakdown of how many petitions fell under the advanced-degree exemption (how many had master’s degrees). But for sure, the odds for international students with a U.S. master’s degree or higher—those with or getting an MBA soon, for example—are better. Based on a sample of about 1,900 international students with graduate degrees who reported their H-1B lottery results to The International Advantage program last year, I’d say the odds this year are between 50 and 60 percent. What’s most important is for international job seekers to try to answer this question: “How can I build a job search plan that allows me to participate in the H-1B lottery and maximize my odds of being selected?
VAULT: This year approximately four or five out of 10 international students with grad degrees who want an H-1B visa won’t get one via the lottery. What will happen to these students?
BARROS: Sadly, they’ll most likely have to leave the U.S. They’ll probably not be able to continue working for the employer who filed for their H-1B visa petition. Their options of staying will be very limited. Those who didn’t get lucky with the H-1B lottery should consult with an immigration attorney, while also carefully assessing the possible risks and rewards of trying to stay in the U.S. and trying the H-1B lottery again next year. It can certainly get very messy, complicated, and expensive to stay. And, of course, there are no guarantees of a favorable outcome next year.
That said, some employers might be able to transfer international workers who don’t secure an H-1B visa to an office outside of the U.S. Unlucky international students not selected by the H-1B lottery could also explore the option of working from their home country and convincing their employer to try their luck with the H-1B lottery the following year. I’ve seen several instances of success with this strategy. So, in some cases, not all is lost with an unfavorable H-1B lottery outcome.
VAULT: This year’s lottery and submission numbers aside, are there any other meaningful developments in the H-1B visa world that international students should be aware of?
BARROS: The fact that U.S. immigration authorities have made it clear that they’re targeting outsourcing firms may be excellent news for international students. Historically, these outsourcing firms have been known to snag a large portion of the H-1B visas. If this trend changes, there would be more H-1B visas available for our international students.
What’s happening is that the federal government is applying more scrutiny to third-party staffing agencies seeking to bring foreign-born workers into the U.S. In this case, we’re talking about an H-1B visa being granted to a worker who would be transferred from outside the U.S. to provide services to American company via an IT outsourcing firm, for example.
VAULT: That’s interesting. So while the Trump administration’s anti-immigration stance might be scaring away some international students, the administration’s anti-outsourcing firm stance could be helping international students in the near future. Is that right? And has Trump or his administration said anything recently about what they think of the H-1B or what they might do with or about it in the future?
BARROS: Indian outscoring firms such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, and Wipro have historically flooded the H-1B visa lottery with petitions, therefore reducing the number of available visas for our international students. This practice has drawn criticism from tech companies like Microsoft that rely on the H-1B, as well as from the Trump administration.
These outsourcing firms, though, have already started to drastically reduce their dependency on the H-1B program. H-1B applications from these firms are down and will receive tremendous scrutiny in 2018. The H-1B party may be over for IT outsourcing firms, and their hiring practices have already begun to change. According to data analyzed from 2015 to 2017 by the San Francisco Chronicle, Wipro saw a 52.4 percent drop in the number of visa applications filed by the company over the past three-year period, TCS reported an 18.3 percent decline, and Infosys saw a 38.1 percent reduction.
So to answer your question, yes, this is an interesting and important new development that will continue to take shape in 2018, and it may positively impact our international students who seek U.S. employment.
Regarding any new developments or actions from President Trump about what he may want to do with the H-1B visa program, I haven’t seen any meaningful announcements lately. The administration has failed to make any significant modifications to the H-1B program, disappointing its base of supporters who expected radical legislative changes that practically make it impossible for U.S. firms to hire non-U.S. citizens.
VAULT: Lastly, how are universities reacting to the latest H-1B developments to help their international students achieve their career goals?
BARROS: Some universities have experimented with different job-search training formats as a way to enhance the support they provide international students. As opposed to only relying on classroom-style job-search training, which can be ineffective since it’s often generic, some business schools are now providing their international MBA students with individualized analyses of their profiles, helping them to improve their readiness to secure U.S. jobs in their desired fields. For example, Texas Christian University Neeley School of Business, Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business, Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, and George Washington University School of Business have all chose different job-training options to help their international students get hired.
Also, some business schools have started to separate their MS international students from their international MBAs when it comes to providing these international students with job-search support. The University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business, for example, decided to host separate, additional job-search training programs for their international MS and MBAs during the fall of 2017.
In general, schools have substantially increased both the quality and quantity of job-search support options for international students. The job-search support our international students receive today is certainly much better than what I received when I came to the U.S. as an international student who wanted a U.S job.
Marcelo Barros is a former international student turned founder of The International Advantage, a job search firm specialized in helping international students secure jobs in the U.S. Barros visited over 30 U.S. universities in 2017 and interacted with over 5,000 international students. Barros conducts job search training aimed at giving international students an edge. He is also the author of The International Advantage Get Noticed. Get Hired!. To learn more about Barros and his work connect with him via LinkedIn.