(Bloomberg) – The number of immigrants under the H1-B visa program in high-tech jobs has fallen the most in at least a decade this year in the United States due to travel and visa restrictions , even as job vacancies in the industry have reached record levels.
Foreign engineering and math workers with H-1B visas fell 12.6% in the fiscal year ending September 2021 compared to the previous year, according to Bloomberg News analysis of departmental data American Labor.
This was the second consecutive annual decline for a segment of the workforce that has historically experienced steady employment growth.
The decline was largely due to a significant slowdown in visa processing during closures and tighter immigration policies resulting from the pandemic, according to lawyers and immigration experts.
Compared to pre-Covid levels in 2019, the number of H-1B use cases this year was down 19% for the Engineering and Mathematics job category.
âSince March 2020, processing of any new visas has been significantly slowed down and almost interrupted by travel restrictions,â said Giovanni Peri, professor of economics at the University of California, Davis. Some jobs in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, could be lost for good in the visa crisis, as remote work could relocate them outside of the United States, according to Peri.
Many visa processing sites in the United States have resumed at a slower pace after a brutal suspension at all embassies and consulates in 2020. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden authorized the expiration of the visa ban Trump-era H-1B.
The H-1B visa program allows U.S. employers to hire highly skilled foreign workers for jobs in specialized fields like coding and engineering. The tech industry in particular relies on the program to alleviate labor shortages. Engineering and math jobs make up the vast majority of H-1B visas issued.
The program is limited to 85,000 new visas per year, but foreign workers who receive H-1B visas can change jobs in the same field, change companies, or have their visas extended. These additional certifications – in addition to new hires – are a larger measure of professional activity within the program.
This combined measure for all job categories totaled more than 497,000 in fiscal 2021, down 9% from 2020 and 17% from 2019. Data analyzed by Bloomberg News goes back up to 2011.
The contraction in hiring of foreign H-1B STEM workers indicates that the tech field was not immune to disruption caused by Covid-19, although it was less affected compared to others industries, said immigration attorney Nandini Nair, a partner and immigration to Greenspoon Marder.
STEM jobs saw record layoffs in March and April of last year. But the sector quickly recovered and experienced lower unemployment during the pandemic than other industries. There was a record 230,000 vacancies in the information industry in September, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
âWhat we’re seeing right now is a resurgence in hiring at all levels, whether it’s for these sponsorships or not. I expect there will be an uptick as we pull out of the pandemic, âsaid Shannon Donnelly, partner at Morgan Lewis.
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