H-1B visas in limbo amidst COVID-19 and lingering immigration policies2 min read
Immigration policies: The selection process is structured as a lottery system; the USCIS has a limited number of H-1B visas to assign yearly. The agency chooses 85,000 petitions at random to move onto processing, from which 65,000 last visas are offered to bachelor’s degree holders and 20,000 are offered to master’s degree holders from certified U.S. institutions.
This makes obtaining an H-1B hard, even without a worldwide pandemic and prohibitive immigration policies. Scott Fitzgerald, Boston’s managing partner of immigration law firm Fragomen, said individuals have a 30% to 40% chance of selection in any given year.
USCIS data show that most medical services petitions in Massachusetts, both initial and continuing, were approved in 2019. The main four employers with the highest approvals and lowest denials in 2019 were all in the STEM field and primary health care employers, with three hospitals at the top of the list.
On the other hand, the best five employers with the highest denials were primarily in the consulting and accounting fields. With enormous firms like Deloitte, the Boston Consulting Group, and Bain and Co. in the mix.
These trends — a higher chance of denial for consulting firms, and a higher chance of approval for health care employers — were only more heavily emphasized in 2020 with COVID-19 in the mix. The pandemic shut down the freedom of travel, and took down several industries with it, including consulting.
US Immigration Policies
“The IT consulting firms and this is a generalization, however, they will tend to recruit individuals abroad,” Fitzgerald said. “Throughout the last 18 months, nobody can come in … so their numbers are way down.”
The process became even more difficult when the Trump government temporarily suspended H-1B and different visas permitting foreign workers in June 2020. As part of an effort to limit the entry of immigrants into the U.S.
Once again, the industry impacted to the greatest extent was consulting, Swapp said. The government challenged consultant petitions on two grounds: its educational requirements and its business model.
“The government took the position that and this might sound senseless, that the MBA was not a professional academic preparation for a specialty worker, which is the definition for an H-1,” Swapp said.
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Massachusetts houses an abundance of biotech companies, and a few top counseling firms across the globe have headquarters in Boston. Including the Boston Consulting Group and Bain and Co.
The state’s H-1B data over the past few years thus paints a clear illustration of how numbers have trended. As a result of the pandemic and immigration policies.
“It’s interesting to see all these organizations like Amazon and Microsoft and Google taking enormous leases in Boston. Since they need to gain access to the talent,” Fitzgerald said, “yet they will have a similar issue.”