USCIS Releases FY 2019 Stats for Temporary Workers

Erick Widman

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published their annual statistics on case processing for nonimmigrant workers, including H-1B, L, and TN petitions, which are key components of temporary employment in the United States. Fiscal Year 2019 (October 2019 through September 2019) continued the trend of lower approval rates and increased Request for Evidence (RFE) rates in most nonimmigrant worker categories, highlighting the critical role of temporary workers in the workforce.

H-1B, Specialty Occupation Workers:

The overall approval rate for H-1B visas, a significant portion of temporary employment opportunities, in Fiscal Year 2019 was 84.8%. RFEs, a pivotal aspect of the temporary employment process, hit a new high, with 40.2% of all cases receiving an RFE this year. Notably, H-1B petitions, a form of temporary labour, received between October and December were issued RFEs at a 60.1% rate. Cases that were issued an RFE had a 65.4% approval rate. The RFE rate poses a challenge for employers and temporary workers alike, as it adds to the time and expense of securing temporary employment. This scenario underscores the importance of understanding what is temporary employment and preparing for the increased likelihood of RFEs in temporary job applications.

The approval rate for H-1B visas, which are integral to the temporary workforce, has decreased by approximately 10% since 2015. The RFE rate for 2019 was approximately 18% higher and the approval rate for RFE cases was 18% lower than in 2015, indicating a tighter scrutiny of temporary employment definitions and temporary job meanings.

See the table below on how this compares to previous years:

Fiscal Year  H-1B Approval Rate     RFE Rate    RFE Approval Rate

2019 84.8%         40.2%         65.4%

2018 84.5%         38.0%         62.4%

2017 92.6%         21.4%         73.6%

2016 93.9%         20.8%         78.9%

2015 95.7%         22.3%         83.2%

The number of new H-1B visas, representing temporary contract work, is capped at 65,000, plus an additional 20,000 for professionals with a U.S. Master’s degree. The cap for these temp jobs has not changed since 2006, reflecting the static nature of temporary employment opportunities despite increasing demand. The USCIS statistics include applications for new visas as well as extensions and changes in employment, encompassing a wide range of temporary work scenarios.

L Visas – Intracompany Transferees of Executive or Manager (L-1A) and Specialized Knowledge Workers (L-1B):

L visas, facilitating temporary employment for Intracompany Transferees, have seen similar trends in approval and RFE rates, underscoring the challenges faced by temporary workers. In 2019, the approval rates for these temporary positions fell to a new low of 71.9%, and the RFE rate for these temporary employment cases hit a new high with 54.3% of cases receiving an RFE. Approval rates of RFE cases also hit a new low at 50.8%. These statistics highlight the evolving landscape of temporary employment and the need for clarity in temporary work definitions and temporary worker definitions.

Petitions for certain L intracompany transferees, which are part of the broader temporary workforce, from Canada and Mexico may be made directly at designated ports of entry, illustrating a unique facet of temporary employment. These applications are not included in USCIS’s numbers, pointing to the varied pathways of temporary labor and temporary employment in the U.S.

See the table below on how this compares to previous years:

Fiscal Year  L Approval Rate  RFE Rate    RFE Approval Rate

2019 71.9%         54.3%         50.8%

2018 77.8%         45.6%         52.9%

2017 80.8%         36.2%         49.4%

2016 85.0%         32.1%         55.6%

2015 83.7%         34.3%         53.5%

This overview of USCIS’s annual statistics provides insight into the state of temporary employment, temporary workforce trends, and the challenges and opportunities for temporary workers and employers navigating the temporary employment landscape in the U.S.

TN Visa – NAFTA Professionals:

Approval and RFE rates for TN visas, a category representing temporary employment for NAFTA professionals, processed by USCIS, showed some improvement over 2018, but the 2019 rates still pose challenges when compared to earlier years such as 2015. In 2015, the overall approval rate for TN petitions, an essential part of the temporary workforce, was 95.1%, with an RFE issuance rate of 17.3%, and an RFE approval rate of 74.8%. By 2019, the approval rate for TN visa petitions had decreased to 89.8%. The RFE rate in 2019 climbed to 24.5%, indicating a more stringent review process, and the approval rate for RFEs in 2019 dipped to 60.1%, highlighting the evolving scrutiny in temporary work approvals.

Petitions for TN professionals, a crucial element of temporary employment under NAFTA, may be made directly to US Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) at designated ports of entry, showcasing a unique pathway for temporary workers. These direct applications are not captured in USCIS’s statistics, pointing to the broader landscape of temporary employment for professionals.

Other Trends for 2019 Nonimmigrant Workers:

The O visas, for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement, and P visas, designed for athletes, athletic/entertainment groups, artists, or entertainers, categories important for temporary workers with specialized skills, did not experience significant shifts in their approval or RFE rates, maintaining a stable environment for these temporary employment opportunities.

Significantly, the only nonimmigrant worker category to witness a notable increase in approval rates, coupled with a decrease in RFE rates, was the Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Workers (R-1). In 2019, the approval rate for R-1 visas, part of the diverse temporary workforce, ascended to a new high of 94.3%. Conversely, the RFE rate for R-1 visas in 2019 diminished to 29.1%, with an impressive 82.4% of those RFE cases being approved. This trend underscores a positive shift in the acceptance of temporary religious work, continuing from an approval rate of 91.7% in 2015 and a decrease in RFEs issued from 33% in 2015, reflecting a more supportive stance towards this category of temporary employment.


The Fiscal Year 2019 statistics from USCIS underscore the increased scrutiny and challenges faced by temporary workers and their employers under the Trump administration. With temporary employment, including that under TN visas and other nonimmigrant worker categories, facing closer examination, the importance of skilled immigration attorneys in navigating the complexities of temporary workforce petitions has never been more critical. This heightened review emphasizes the need for comprehensive understanding and strategic planning in securing temporary employment opportunities in the current immigration climate.

Request a Consultation

"*" indicates required fields

How Can We Help
I Have Read The Disclaimer*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.