The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published their annual statistics on case processing for nonimmigrant workers, including H-1B, L, and TN petitions. 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.

H-1B, Specialty Occupation Workers:

The overall approval rate for H-1B visas in Fiscal Year 2019 was 84.8%.  Requests for Evidence hit a new high, with 40.2% of all cases receiving an RFE this year.  Notably, H-1B petitions 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 is a challenging one for H-1B employers and employees because RFEs significantly add to the time and expense of an H-1B petition. It is becoming more important to plan for the increased likelihood of Requests for Evidence in cases.

The H-1B approval rate 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.  

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 available is capped at 65,000, plus an additional 20,000 for professionals with a U.S. Master’s degree.  The number of visas available has not changed since 2006. The USCIS statistics include applications for new visas as well as extensions and changes in employment.

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

L visas received and evaluated by USCIS have seen a similar trend in approval and RFE rates.  In 2019, the approval rates for the Intracompany Transferee visas fell to a new low of 71.9% and the RFE rate 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 rates are in sharp contrast to 2016, where 85% of cases were approved, a 13% difference, and the RFE rate was 32.1%, a 22% difference.

Petitions for certain L intracompany transferees from Canada and Mexico may be made to US Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) directly at designated ports of entry.  These applications are not included in USCIS’s numbers.

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%

 

TN Visa – NAFTA Professionals:

Approval and RFE rates for TN visas processed by USCIS saw a slight improvement over 2018 rates, but the 2019 rates still demonstrate a challenging environment compared to 2015.  In 2015 the overall approval rate for TN petitions was 95.1%, with 17.3% receiving an RFE, and the RFE approval rate was 74.8%. In 2019, the approval rate for TN visa petitions was down to 89.8%.  The 2019 RFE rate was 24.5%, a 7% increase, but approval rate for RFEs in 2019 fell to 60.1%, 14% lower than in 2015.   

Petitions for TN professionals may be made to US Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) directly at designated ports of entry.  These applications are not included in USCIS’s numbers.  

Other trends for 2019 Nonimmigrant Workers:

O visas, for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement, and P visas, for Athletes, Athletic/Entertainment Groups, Artists, or Entertainers, did not see significant changes in their approval or RFE rates.  

The only nonimmigrant worker category to see a significant increase in the approval rate, as well as a decrease in the RFE rate, was the Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Workers (R-1).  The 2019 approval rate rose to a new high of 94.3%. The RFE rate for 2019 R-1 visas fell to a new low of 29.1%, and 82.4% of those RFE cases were approved. This is a continuation of the upward trend in R-1 approvals, which was 91.7% in 2015, and a decrease in RFEs issued, which was 33% in 2015. 

Summary:

The Fiscal Year 2019 stats from USCIS confirm what our office and other immigration attorneys have felt during the Trump administration —  immigration cases are under more scrutiny and being questioned more often. It is important now more than ever to have immigration attorneys on your side that can take the time to know your case, your business, and can make the best immigration plan for you and your company.