(Bloomberg) – The number of immigrants in high-tech jobs under the H1-B visa program in the United States this year had its biggest drop in at least a decade, amid visa and travel restrictions, even as job openings in the industry reached record levels.
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Foreign engineering and math workers on H-1B visas were down 12.6% in the fiscal year ending September 2021 compared to the previous year, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of the data from the US Department of Labor.
For a segment of the workforce that has historically experienced steady growth, this was the second consecutive annual decline.
The drop was largely due to a significant slowdown in visa processing during lockdowns and stricter immigration policies stemming from the pandemic, according to lawyers and experts on the subject.
Compared to the pre-pandemic levels, the number of H-1B employment cases this year decreased 19% for the engineering and math job category.
“Since March 2020, the processing of any new visa has been drastically slowed down by travel restrictions,” said Giovanni Peri, an economics professor at the University of California at Davis. Some jobs in science, technology, engineering and math could be lost permanently to the visa crisis, as remote work could cause employers to locate these types of positions outside the United States, he said.
The H-1B visa program allows US employers to hire highly-skilled foreign workers for jobs in specialized fields such as coding and engineering. The tech industry, in particular, relies on this program to alleviate a worker shortage. Engineering and math jobs make up a large part of the H-1B visas issued.
The program is limited to 85,000 new visas a year, but foreign workers who receive this type of visa can change roles within the same field, change companies or extend their permits. These additional certifications, in addition to new hires, constitute a broader measure of work activity within the program.
This combined metric for all job categories totaled more than 497,000 during fiscal 2021, a 9% decrease from 2020 and a 17% decrease from 2019. The data that Bloomberg News analyzed dates back to 2011.
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