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According to the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), H-1B denials have skyrocketed since fiscal year (FY) 2015. Analyzing data from USCIS’s H-1B Employer Data Hub, NFAP found that denial rates for new H-1B petitions have quadrupled between FY 2015 and FY 2018, and the trend is increasing for the first quarter of FY 2019.

Increased Denials of Initial H-1B Petitions

The denial rate for initial H-1B petitions has risen from 6% in FY 2015 to 24% in FY 2018. Startlingly, the data for the first quarter of FY 2019 shows a denial rate of 32%. In contrast, between FY 2010 and FY 2015, the denial rate for H-1B petitions never exceeded 8%.

Furthermore, for the first quarter of FY 2019, USCIS issued a Request for Evidence (RFE) for 60% of H-1Bs. USCIS has also released a list of the top 10 reasons why they issued an RFE for FY 2018. The main reason for RFEs in FY 2018 was that “the petitioner did not establish that the position qualifies as a specialty occupation.”

Data from USCIS also showed that leading companies experience sharp increases in initial H-1B denials. At least 10 companies that provide professional or IT services to other U.S. companies had an increase of over 40% in their initial H-1B denial rates between FY 2015 and the first quarter of FY 2019. Several companies even saw denial rates exceed 40% in FY 2018 and the first quarter of FY 2019.

Increase of Denials of H-1B Petitions for Continuing Employment

The sharp increase of denial rates for H-1Bs does not stop with only initial H-1Bs. Data from USCIS shows that in FY 2018, the denial rate for H-1B petitions for continuing employment increased to 12%, and for the first quarter of FY 2019 to 18%. In contrast, between FY 2009 and FY 2017, the denial rate for these petitions never exceeded 3%.

USCIS’s memo on “Rescission of Guidance Regarding Deference to Prior Determinations of Eligibility in the Adjudication of Petitions for Extension of Nonimmigrant Status” is likely responsible for the increase of denial rates for these cases. This memo rescinded previous policy that instructed USCIS adjudicators to give deference to the findings of a previously approved petition as long as key elements were unchanged and there was no evidence of a material error or fraud related to the prior determination.

The memo by USCIS is one of many other policy changes that have resulted from President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order from April 2017, and the impact on H-1Bs – both initial and continuing employment – is already starkly evident.