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In a month or two, new freshman class of international students will be swarming all the college campuses excited about their future.  Sophomores will be deciding their majors, most hoping to follow their passions.  Some juniors may have a change of heart and look to switch majors as they face practical realities.  The entering class of seniors will soon begin their search for employers to sponsor employment-based visas for them upon graduation next year.  Most importantly, potential employers (managers, HR, recruiting agencies, and companies) assess numerous resumes that such international students send, in order to evaluate credentials and “fit”, as well as consider the possibility and probability of visa sponsorship.

Will any of them pay attention to the recently published report by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the “Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers”?  They should… not only those seeking work and visas to stay in the U.S., but especially the potential employers considering sponsoring foreign national employees.

On June 26, 2013, pursuant to statutory requirement, USCIS prepared and submitted to Congress its Annual Report, “Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers” for Fiscal Year 2012 (Oct. 1 2011 – Sept. 30, 2012).   The following highlights in the report are especially noteworthy:

The number of H-1B petitions filed increased 15% from 267,654 in 2011 to 307,713 in 2012.

The number of approved H-1B petitions overall (irrespective whether the petitions were received in previous years) decreased 3 % from 269,653 in 2011 to 262,569 in 2012.

The breakdown of the initial vs. extensions also shifted with initial petitions making up 39% of approved petitions in 2011 and up to 52% of approved petitions in 2012.

Seventy-two percent (72%) of H-1B petitions approved in 2012 were for workers between the ages of 25 and 34.

The median salary of beneficiaries of approved petitions remained at $70,000 for both 2011 and 2012.

The overwhelming number of approved petitions were for Indian nationals for both years, 58% in 2011 and 64% in 2012.  China came in second (7.6%), then Canada (3%), then the Philippines (2%) and final, top-5 place went to South Korea (1.7%).  Japan ranked at number eight, taking up only 1% of the approved petitions in 2012.

Forty-six percent (46%) of H-1B petitions approved in 2012 were for workers with a bachelor’s degree, forty-one percent (41%) had a master’s degree, 8% had a doctorate, and 4% were for workers with a professional degree.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of H-1B petitions approved in 2012 were for workers in computer-related occupations, up from about fifty-one percent (51%) of the previous year.  Occupations in architecture and engineering came in second representing 10% of the approved petitions in 2012, slight fall from 11% in 2011.  Those in non-core science related fields made up about 1% or less in each of their respective fields.  For instance, occupations in art dropped from 1% of approved petitions in 2011 to 0.4% in 2012. The noteworthy exceptions were jobs in education at 6.7% and “occupations in administrative specialization” which made up 7% of all approved petitions in 2012.

What does this all tell us?  International students attending universities in the U.S. with any dream of remaining here after their gradation should really focus on computer-related or technical/engineering studies.  Stay away from liberal arts courses.  If you chose “wrong” as an undergraduate, then pursue a Masters in an area more likely to be acceptable under the H1B standard.

All half-jokes aside, given that the H-1B cap was reached in the first week of April this year (FY 2014, first time since 2008), with about double the number of petitions submitted than allowed under the cap, all parties must be mindful of such past reports.  First, companies should self-assess whether they are in the type of industry and/or business that is conducive to employment-based visas, and whether the proposed position will qualify as a “specialized” occupation generally requiring a higher degree. Second, when considering potential candidates for visa sponsorship, employers must remember that the candidate’s academic background is one of the key factors that USCIS will carefully scrutinize.  These pre-assessments by companies are important, so that companies do not waste any resources or time in aimlessly seeking to sponsor and file employment-based visas that are unlikely to succeed.

Written by H. Heidi Son, Esq.
Of Counsel
SW Law Group, P.C.

August 2013