The number of approvals for new and renewed H-1B visas fell sharply in 2018, just-released government data shows. And so far this year, approvals for the controversial visa have continued to decline.

The number of approvals fell to 335,000 in fiscal year 2018 from 373,400 in the prior fiscal year — a 10 percent drop, according to the agency’s 2018 Statistical Annual Report.


The declining approvals come amid a crackdown by the administration of President Donald Trump that has seen the denial rate for new H-1B visas skyrocket, with nearly one in four requests rejected, the highest rate in almost a decade.

“This administration has aggressively pursued strategies to clamp down on use of the H-1B program, and these efforts are now showing in the data,” Migration Policy Institute analyst Sarah Pierce said Tuesday.

For the first six months of this fiscal year, the overall H-1B approval rate for new and continuing visas continued to plummet, to 79 percent by the end of March, from 85 percent last year.

Approval rates declined slowly from 2015’s 96 percent to 2017’s 93 percent, before last year’s precipitous downturn, Citizenship and Immigration data shows.

The H-1B, heavily relied upon by Silicon Valley technology companies but implicated in reported abuses by outsourcing companies, has become a flashpoint in America’s immigration debate. Tech firms push for an increase to the annual 85,000 cap on new visas, while critics point to multiple reports of American workers being forced to train their H-1B-carrying replacements. Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, which specifically highlights the H-1B, has driven heightened scrutiny of employers and foreign citizens seeking the visa, which is intended for jobs requiring specialized skills.

The administration has also tweaked the lottery to favor workers with advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. Denial-rate data indicates that outsourcing companies are feeling the weight of the government’s heavier hand, while tech firms including Facebook, Google and Microsoft have seen their denial rates stay flat.

However, Howard University professor Ron Hira, who studies the H-1B, has noted that outsourcing companies remain among the top H-1B recipients. Hira said the Trump administration has taken “some positive steps” but hasn’t delivered its promised “major overhaul.”