The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) found that the number of H-1B visas issued in fiscal year 2016 exceeded the legal cap of 85,000 by about three times due to approval of petitions from employers exempt from the cap. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued 345,262 H-1B visas that year, including 230,759 to universities and nonprofit or government research organizations that are exempt for the cap.

The H-1B program issues temporary work permits for foreign nationals to work for employers in certain high-skilled and specialty occupations that involve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Congress capped the number of H-1B visas at 65,000 per year plus an additional 20,000 for holders of master's degrees. But Congress exempted from the cap visa applications from universities and nonprofit or government research organizations. Existing H-1B visa holders seeking to renew their visa or change employers also are exempt.

MPI analyzed newly released USCIS data and found that cap-exempt employers are driving H-1B numbers. These employers received an average 212,000 visas in each of the last five years. The 230,759 visas received in 2016 represents the highest level yet.

MPI also found that:

  • “Almost one-third of all approved H-1B petitions in fiscal 2017 went to just 20 companies, even as 40,645 firms were approved to sponsor H-1B visas that year. The top employers are either foreign consulting firms, some accused of using the visa to outsource U.S. jobs, or U.S. high-tech giants such as Amazon, Apple and Google; and
  • Among the top 20 firms, those with the highest share of H-1Bs pay less and employ fewer workers with advanced degrees, compared to companies that are less dependent on an H-1B workforce. Workers at H-1B dependent employers in the top 20 earned an average $82,788 in fiscal 2017, as compared to $110,511 for H-1B workers in top firms that are not dependent. And just 27 percent of H-1B workers in the dependent firms had a master’s degree or higher, as compared to 55 percent working for employers who are not H-1B dependent.”

With respect to the workers, MPI found the vast majority reside in India, with additional large numbers of applicants from China.

The H-1B visa program has long been criticized as a means for employers to replace American STEM workers with lower-salaried foreign workers. Employers are not required to pay FICA taxes for their H-1B workers, an additional cost savings.

In this vein, the MPI report noted, "scattered reports of companies using the H-1B visa to replace U.S. workers continue…In recent years, companies such as Southern California Edison, New York Life, Walt Disney Company, and Toys ‘R' Us have received widespread attention and criticism for hiring H-1B dependent outsourcing companies, announcing layoffs of U.S. workers, and requiring those losing their jobs to train their H-1B replacements in order to receive severance payments."

Pew Research Center today released a separate study that examines where H-1B visa holder work. For fiscal years 2010 to 2016, 29 percent (247,900) of all visa holders worked for employers in the New York City metro area. The Dallas (74,000), Washington (64,800) and Boston (38,300) metro areas followed.

Read more in the Free Beacon or the MPI report.

Updated: Thu, Apr 12th 2018 @ 5:35pm EDT