H-1B Visa
The fee, which will be the responsibility of the petitioning employer, will be effective for those applying for FY-2021 onwards.

In a move that could benefit companies in the US who apply for H-1B visas for their employees, they will now have to pay a fee of $10 to register the applicant online with basic information when the applications are opened.

From all the potential applicants that the companies register, the lottery process randomly picks the required number of candidates. Once they are picked, the employers are informed, who can then file the full application along with the requisite visa fees depending on the category. 

H-1B visas that the USA issues is capped at 65,000 presently.

Employers apply for the H-1B visa for their employees (applicants cannot apply directly), and India is one of the largest recipients of the visa. The fee paid for the registration is the responsibility of the petitioning employer, not the foreign worker.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that this new rule will be effective from December 9 (for those applying for fiscal year 2021) and that the $10 fee is non-refundable.

“USCIS is fee-funded, and this non-refundable fee will support the new electronic registration system to make the H-1B cap selection process more efficient for both petitioners and the agency,” the agency stated.

This is beneficial for companies because they will not have to go through the process of having to submit a full, paper-based petition as required under the current selection process. Under the new rule, they will have to do this only for those picked in the lottery.

Approvals of H-1B visas have seen an uptick in 2019 up to September 30, albeit by only 0.3% over 2018.

In 2015, the USCIS approved 2.88 lakh applications which represented a 95.7% approval rate, which fell consistently over the years, to 84.5% in 2018, although the cumulative number of approvals for this year stood at 3.55 lakh. However, for the fiscal year 2019, the figure touched 3.89 lakh with an 84.8% approval rate, which represented a marginal increase from the last fiscal. 76% of the total visas issued in 2018 went to professionals from India.

While approvals have gone up, denial rates have also significantly increased. According to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of USCIS, data, H-1B denial rates increased from 6% in FY2015 to 24% in the first three quarters (October to June) of FY2019 for new H-1B petitions for initial employment (the first time that someone is applying for the visa). 

As far as companies are concerned, Cognizant saw over 60% of applications for initial employment rejected in FY2019. This was followed by Capgemini (55%), Wipro (53%), Accenture (52%) and Infosys (45%).

Significantly, higher denial rates also eat into the operating margins of companies. 

When TCS announced the results from its second quarter where it missed both revenue and margin estimates, one of the reasons for its operating margin to contract was visa costs. 

Even in the whistleblower complaints that have rocked Infosys, one of the allegations is that visa costs were not fully recognised in order to improve margins. 

To obtain an H-1B visa, one must work in an occupation that requires the application of a body of highly specialised knowledge and a Bachelor’s degree or higher in the speciality or its equivalent.