H-1b Workers Decreasing ?

A recent Bloomberg article stated that the number of H-1b workers in STEM positions dropped by over 12% from 2020 and reached their lowest levels in 10 years. The data used was the number of LCA’s filed and certified by the DOL. The speculation as to why; focused on slower processing times, COVID, and greater opportunities to off-shore, among others. Read the entire story to get their perspective. The implicit conclusion was that there were fewer H-1b workers. I don’t dispute the data nor the reasons given but, I do think the implication is inaccurate. I also think the number 1 reason we saw a drop in new H-1b petitions last year was the forward surge of priority dates in the fall of 2020 and the speculation that the surge would occur again in October of 2021 (this did not happen as expected). This surge resulted in fewer new H-1b petitions in 2 different scenarios. First, for those who were eligible to file I-485’s, they immediately left the job market and did not return until after their I-485’s had been pending for over 180 days and when they did return, most did not need a new H-1b but, could join a new employer based upon an EAD card. Secondly, for Indian H-1b workers there was an incentive to not change employers when you expected your priority date to become current within 24 months. There was a fear that you would not have enough time to get a new PERM and I-140 approved by a new employer so you stayed at your current employer that already had an approval for you. Almost 90,000 I-485 applications were filed during the 3 month window in late 2020 when the priority dates surged forward. There was another dynamic that was pushed forward by the pandemic specifically impacting H-1b workers in the staffing space. Pre pandemic with little to no WFH, the ending of a project often meant the ending of employment because the H-1b worker often was not interested in re-location so he or she had to find a new employer/sponsor and a new H-1b petition was required. Post-pandemic when most people were WFH, a new project in a different city did not require relocation so there was no natural change in employer and no new petition.

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