Hacking the H-1B: How big tech companies still get 99% of the work visas they need under Trump

Despite the Trump administration’s crackdown on H-1B visas, major tech companies still manage to attain a surprisingly high rate of visa approvals.

UPDATE: President Trump tweeted that he will sign an Executive Order temporarily suspending immigration into the United States. It is unclear at present how this will impact H-1B.

With H-1B visa denial rates rising from 6% in 2015 to 24% in 2018, many immigrant tech workers and job seekers are increasingly concerned about their future in the United States. But despite the Trump administration’s immigration policies, tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Facebook were still able to get 99% of their H-1B visa applications approved in 2018--in comparison to the 76% average. In fact, while outsourcing and staffing giants such as Cognizant Tech Solutions and Infosy have suffered from much higher denial rates, major tech companies have been getting more H-1B visas approved than before.

Big tech companies have several key advantages in H-1B visa applications

A major reason that companies like Amazon and Microsoft are able to achieve 99% H-1B approval rate is their ability to pay for top notch immigration lawyers with a track record of high approval rates, as well as for the necessary human resources support and application fees. The demand for expert immigration lawyers in tech is shown by the growth of immigration law firms in Silicon Valley focused on H-1B and other work visas.

Another reason that tech giants have higher approval rates is that the nature of their work lends itself to passing the specialty occupation rule, which requires the job to have a certain level of complexity or uniqueness. Additionally, big tech companies are also more able to afford hiring highly experienced tech workers, who are more likely to pass the specialty occupation rule.

Another way tech companies “hack” the H-1B

Major tech companies also use a two-pronged approach to maximize their H-1B approvals. They both apply on behalf of H-1B candidates directly and also retain staffing firms to apply on behalf of candidates. Using outsourcing and staffing firms like Capgemini and Ernst & Young allows tech companies to hire foreign workers with more varied skills and be less involved in the onboarding and offboarding administration.

How to increase your chances of H-1B visa approval

First, you may be able to increase your chances by applying to a technical role at one of the above tech giants with a 99% approval rate: Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Intel. For example, someone who is applying as an incoming soft engineer at Google will likely have a higher chance of approval than another person applying in an entry-level, non-technical role at a smaller company. Also, note that not all big tech companies are the same when it comes to H-1B approval rates. IBM, for instance, has a relatively lower 92% approval rate.

Secondly, it is crucial that you are thorough and overly prepared with documentation in your H-1B application. In particular, you should try to avoid a Request for Evidence (RFE) at all costs. In recent years, the government has increased the issuing of RFEs, requesting companies to prove their sponsored candidates have special training or education that makes them uniquely qualified for the job. If you’re not thorough and accurate with the documents you provide, a new policy in place allows immigration officials to directly deny your application instead of issuing a RFE.

Lastly, you can provide evidence that the position is sophisticated and complex by showing ads for comparable positions in the same geographic area and for similar pay that require advanced degrees, or show evidence that your company has required advanced degrees for the same position in the past.

What to do if you’re not selected in the H-1B visa lottery

If you’re not selected, do not yet lose hope--you have several options. You can reapply next year and your company can sponsor you for an H-1B again because there’s no limit on the number of years you can be entered in the lottery, whether you’re inside or outside the U.S. and whether you’re currently employed by them or not. Some people wait up to 10 years before they receive their H-1B visas.

You can also look into other visa options, including the following:

  • L-1 Visas: If your employer has an office outside of the U.S. and you can legally work in that overseas office for 12 months or more, your employer can then transfer you back to the U.S. under an L-1A visa (for executives and managers) or an L-1B visa (for employees with specialized knowledge). As an additional benefit, there are no annual quotas for L-1 visas, and they are also “dual intent” and can lead to a green card.
  • O-1A Visa: If you have “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, business, or education, you may be eligible for an O-1A. Note that the bar for qualifying for an O-1A is higher than for an H-1B.
  • J-1 Visa: Most employers cannot directly sponsor an individual for a J-1 visa, which is a work-and-study exchange program. The government allows certain public and private organizations like universities to supervise the exchange programs and application process, which can then be used to support a J-1 at a designated company.
  • F-1 Visa: Some graduate programs require Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or allow Optional Practical Training (OPT). If you are studying under a F-1 Visa, you could work in your field of study through these programs.

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