US government-collected data on H-1B, L-1 visas ‘inadequate’ and ‘poor quality’: Economic Policy Institute report

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Report estimates more than 1.4 million authorized foreign workers, out of which more than 460,000 were on H-1B visas, in the US, 2013; discrepancies in L-1 visa data by DOS and USCIS.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has criticized the US government data collecting agencies for doing incompetent work in recording non-immigrant visa related data. The report estimates more than 1.4 million foreign workers were given work authorizations to be employed in the US during 2013. On H-1B, EPI estimates that more than 460,000 guestworkers were authorized to work on H-1B visas in 2013. Interestingly, the report also pointed out that there are discrepancies in the number of L-1 visas issued during the same period.

The Washington, DC,-based think tank released a report titled Temporary foreign workers by the numbers on March 7. Pointing out the necessity of such a report, it said that the data available through US government departments is “inadequate” and “generally of poor quality”.

“Beyond the final numerical estimates we provide in this report, our overarching assessment of these data also finds that while the U.S. government collects a substantial amount of information on nonimmigrants and the employers that hire them—which is the main source of information on U.S. temporary foreign worker programs—this government-collected data on nonimmigrant visas is inadequate, generally of poor quality, and recorded in an inconsistent manner across federal agencies.”


About 1.42 million foreign workers in the US in 2013

EPI reveals that about 1.42 million foreign workers were authorized to be employed in the United States during the 2013 fiscal year. This estimate includes 10 categories of non-immigrant work visas – H-2a, H-2B, H-1B, J-1, J-2, L-1, L-2, O-1/O-2, F-1/OPT/STEM OPT and TN.

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More than 460,000 of these non-immigrant work visas were H-1B visas, the report explicates. The second most popular category for non-immigrant foreign workers is L-1 visa. While H-1B is for specialized, highly skilled foreign worker, the L-1 visa is for an intracompany transferee. In 2013, more than 130,000 temporary foreign workers joined the US work force on L-1 visas.  Another popular visa category for guestworkers is that of J-1 visa. About 215,000 visas were issued under J-1 visa category in 2013.  

However, the report acknowledged that its estimates on the non-immigrant population are different from those of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Pew Research Center (Pew). DHS estimates 1.73 million nonimmigrants resided in the US in 2014. But, DHS did not specify how many of these nonimmigrants were employed in the US. The Pew Research Center has estimated 1.7 million “temporary lawful” residents were living in the US in 2014. However, same as DHS, it lacked clarity on how many of these were employed in the US labor market.

H-1B Visas

Every year 85,000 H-1B visas are issued to highly skilled foreign workers. This annual “cap” of 85,000 is further is divided into two sections: a statutorily mandated 65,000 H-1B visas, and an additional 20,000 for those who obtained a master’s degree or higher from a US university. In addition, some employers are exempt from the H-1B cap, by law. These include institutions of higher education or related nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations.

One main reason for the popularity of H-1B visa is that it lays path for immigration, popularly known as green-card. The study finds that nearly 140,000 H-1B nonimmigrants converted their status to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) during 2011-2013.

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Another significant finding of the reports is that during the above mentioned years, more than 70 percent of the H-1B petition approvals were for workers between the ages of 25 and 34. Also, nearly 80 percent of the approvals went to beneficiaries from countries in Asia, especially India. India attracts nearly 70 percent of the total H-1b visas.

L-1 visas for intracompany transferees

There are two types of L-1 visas – L-1A and L-1B. The first category, i.e. L-1A, is for employees who are employed as managers or executives. L-1B visa is for foreign workers with “specialized knowledge”. For fiscal years 2009-2012, 57.6 percent of petitions were for L-1A and 42.4 percent were for L-1B.

There is a huge discrepancy between US Department of State (DOS) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding the number of L-1 petitions approved during the 2009-2012 period. “During the 2009-2012 period, DOS issued 272,573 L-1 visas, but USCIS data on approved L-1 petitions show only 142,425 approved L-1 visa petitions,” according to the report. The report, however, estimates that more than 430,000 L-1 workers were employed in the US in 2013.

“Like the H-1b population, most L-1 workers hail from Asia (mostly India), but a significant share are also from Europe,” the report said. The EPI report said that no data was available on age or gender of the L-1 beneficiaries. For its calculations it selected ages 25-64 for the approved L-1 petitioners.

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Furthermore, the report calculated that during 2007-2013 more than 58,000 L-1 visa-holders converted to the LPR status.

Optional Practical Training program for recent foreign graduates of OPT

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows the F-1 nonimmigrant visa holders to remain and work in the US for up to one year. Graduates from the STEM field (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics), however, can extend their employment authorizations during OPT for another 24 months (for a total of three years)

The report found that for the period 2008-2014 more than 560,000 employment authorizations were granted under OPT program (F-1 visa). In addition, nearly 85,700 were approved for extension under the STEM OPT.

Recently, US lawmakers have proposed several bills for stricter rules on non-immigrant work visas, especially H-1B and L-1 visas.


At least 858 US citizenship given by error, 200,000 green cards missing: Inspector General John Roth (March 17, 2017)

H-1B issue could be a ‘source of tension’ in US-India ties, says Nisha Desai Biswal (March 14, 2017)

New H-1B visa reform of Trump might take longer for implementation (March 13, 2017)

H4 work authorization may be next on Trump’s hit list, says Sheela Murthy (March 9, 2017)

Ro Khanna introduces bipartisan bill to reduce H-1B, L1 ‘fraud and abuse’ (March 3, 2017)

New H-1B reform bill proposing twofold hike in minimum wage introduced in House of Representatives (January 31, 2017)

(This story was updated on March 17, 2017.)