26 Jan 2021

United States

USCIS Data Shows Decline in H-1B RFEs and Denials

On January 25, 2021, USCIS released its latest quarterly report on the adjudication—including the issuance of RFEs—of Form I-129 petitions. The report breaks down the data by month and quarter for each of the past six fiscal years (FYs) and provides separate tables for H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, L-1, O, P, R-1, and TN classifications. 

The H-1B classification experienced the most volatility during the previous administration. The rate of RFE issuance doubled from 20% in FY2016 to about 40% in FY2018 and FY2019.  At the same time, the number of H-1B petitions being approved dropped to less than 85%. But in the middle of FY2020, the numbers change dramatically. In Q3 and Q4, USCIS approved nearly 97% of H-1B petitions and issued RFEs in only 17.5% of cases. The impetus for this change was likely the settlement reached in ITServe Alliance, Inc. v. USCIS, after a federal court judge ruled against USCIS. As part of the settlement, USCIS withdrew several policy memos in June 2020 that it had used to treat H-1B petitions more harshly. 

The other category of cases that saw a significant change in adjudication patterns under the previous administration was L-1 intracompany transferees, including managers and executives (L-1A) and those with specialized knowledge (L-1B). The rate of RFE issuance in those cases jumped about twenty points by FY2019, to 54%, and remains at 54% for FY2020. The overall denial rate for L-1 petitions—which reached a high of 28% in FY2019—did drop down to 25% in FY2020, although that is still higher than it was in FY2015-2017. 

The TN classification—for professionals from Mexico or Canada—also saw a marked increase in RFEs and denials in FY2018, but by the end of FY2020 that increase was gone. This is notable because the volume of TN petitions more than doubled in Q3 and Q4 of FY2020, likely due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, but the increased volume did not stop the downward trend of the RFE and denial rates.  

Data for the remaining I-129 classifications provided in this report do not reflect statistically significant changes in the overall adjudication patterns under the previous administration.  

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