According to a Bloomberg News study of US Department of Labor data, the number of immigrants holding high-tech employment under the H1-B visa program decreased by 9% in the United States, the largest reduction in a decade.
As per the report, the number of foreign engineers and mathematicians on H-1B visas declined by 12.6 per cent in the fiscal year ended September 2021, compared to the previous year. This is the second straight annual fall for this category, which had previously been constantly rising, and is mostly due to travel and visa limitations imposed by the Covid-19 outbreak.
During the fiscal year 2021, the combined statistic for all job categories totalled more than 497,000, a fall of 9% from 2020 and 17% from 2019. Data were analyzed by Bloomberg News from 2011 through 2021.
“The drop in H-1B workers is clearly attributed to the Covid travel bans and the inability of non-immigrants to get visas and come to the US under approved H-1B petitions,” said Cyrus Mehta, managing partner, Cyrus D Mehta & Partners.
During the initial days of the pandemic, former US President Donald Trump restricted the admission of some visa holders, notably H-1B visa holders, in order to protect American jobs for local employees.
Furthermore, the pandemic caused diplomatic shutdowns around the world, causing visa processing to come to a standstill and subsequently slow down. The number of H-1B employment cases for engineering and mathematics jobs was down 19 per cent this year compared to pre-Covid levels in 2019.
“Another way of looking at it is that many in the US who have been in H-1B status may have adjusted to the permanent residence over the past year,” Mehta said.
“Also, many who have pending adjustment applications, and have not yet received the green card, may have decided to remain in the US as pending adjustment applicants with work permits rather than remain in H-1B status,” he said. “Pending adjustment applicants find it easier to remain without an H-1B and have only a work permit as they can exercise job portability more easily.”
After an unexpected suspension across all embassies and consulates in 2020, several U.S. visa processing facilities have reopened at a slower rate. President Joe Biden enabled a Trump-era limit on H-1B visas to lapse earlier this year. Employers in the United States can hire high-skilled foreign workers for positions in speciality industries like coding and engineering through the H-1B visa program. The program is especially important to the tech industry, as it helps to alleviate labour shortages. The great majority of H-1B visas are for jobs in engineering and mathematics.
Although the program is limited to 85,000 new visas per year, foreign employees with H-1B visas can change jobs, move businesses, or have their visas extended. In addition to new recruits, these supplementary certificates represent a broader measure of work activity inside the program.
According to immigration attorney Nandini Nair, a partner at Greenspoon Marder, the decrease in recruiting for H-1B foreign STEM professionals demonstrates that the field of technology was not immune to the disruptions produced by Covid-19, though it was damaged to a lower amount than other businesses.
In March and April of last year, there were a record number of layoffs in STEM jobs. However, the sector recovered fast and had fewer unemployment opportunities than other industries during the pandemic. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were an unprecedented 230,000 job opportunities in the information sector in September.