The number of H-1B visas given out by the United States government hit the congressionally mandated cap after just four days, but there’s evidence that interest from foreign job seekers may be waning.
Data from job site Indeed show that searches by job seekers for H-1B visas declined year-over-year for the first time in three years, according to Valerie Rodden, an economic research analyst at the employment website.
“There is a seasonal trend of searches peaking in February and bottoming out in April,” she said “but this year searches have continued to decline [since April] showing us that job seekers are less inclined to search for H-1B opportunities than they have [been] in the past.”
For the first half of 2017, Canada was the most searched destination for H-1B visa jobseekers on the site, with 44% of traffic directed there, 10% to Australia, 5% to the United Kingdom and 5% to China.
This could be a problem for the tech sector. While the Trump Administration is pushing companies to “hire American”, there simply aren’t enough qualified workers from the United States to fill open positions.
In 2015, there were nearly 10 times more computer science jobs than students graduating with computer science degrees.
Job seekers requiring sponsorship showed fives times the concentration of interest in tech positions compared to the average U.S. job seeker. On Indeed, software engineering positions specifically saw nearly 16 times greater concentration from H-1B job seekers. Java developer and data scientist jobs saw 14 times and 13 times greater concentration, respectively.
As is the case with much of U.S. immigration policy, the H-1B visa program is complex. It involves the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. And each of those agencies track a different part of the H-1B process, which has an annual cap of 85,000 for new approvals.
Annual totals almost always surpass that cap because H-1B holders are allowed to renew their visa for three years after being approved.
That means what looks like growth in the number of employees working on H-1B visas accounts for foreign workers already in the U.S. who are renewing their visas as well as employees at organizations exempt from the mandated cap, such as religious groups.
The largest number of H-1B visas go to workers in the tech sector and these jobs primarily get filled by Indian applicants. More than 70% of all H-1B visas over the last 10 years went to Indian applicants working mostly these computer science or IT positions, according to data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
But even that has started to change.
Analysis from Deloitte India shows that more Indian workers have started looking for jobs back home in the first part of 2017. Around 600 U.S.-based Indians sought jobs in India during December 2016, but by the end of March 2017 the number had gone up to approximately 7,000, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Pvt. Ltd said.
The H-1B job search data from Indeed shows a steeper decline when focused on job seekers in India.
Searches have been down every month since January compared to 2016 and H-1B searches from Indian job seekers in July are down 31% year-over-year (compared to a 14% decline from all job seekers searching for H-1B on the site).
“There’s seasonal variation so searches usually bottom out in April and then start quickly rising again, but this year searches have remained relatively flat since April,” Rodden said.
New data from the USCIS show that the number of H-1B visa petitions for Indian candidates in 2017 declined for the first time in 7 years and the number of computer-related petitions decreased for the first time in 4 years.
A report from the Associated Press showed that computer science hires working on H-1B visas make less than their American peers.