The U.S. Department of Labor, Foreign Labor Certification Unit, just released its 2009 annual report, covering visa statistics from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009. The report showed a continual decrease in the number of PERM labor certification filings and approvals. Specifically, the report indicates that there was a 42% decrease in certified cases from fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2008 and then a 40% decrease from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2009.

The following data is noteworthy:

INDUSTRY: All of the top five industries for permanent labor certification experienced a decrease: Professional, Scientific and Technical Services down 37%, manufacturing down 26%, educational services down 33 %, health care and social assistance down 44%, and finance and insurance down 18%.

STATE: In fiscal year 2009 there were only 8 states with more than 1,000 certifications as compared to 12 states in fiscal year 2008 and 18 states in fiscal year 2007. In addition, all eight of the states with more than 1,000 certifications saw a decrease of more than 30% (with California and Texas at a 47% decrease in the number of certified cases).

COUNTRY: India and China remained two of the top countries for foreign workers in the PERM program. However, South Korea and the Philippines entered the top 5 for the first time in recent years, although still amounting for a small percentage of the overall total. The top five countries included: (1) India – 11,387 petitions certified, 38% of the total; (2) China – 2,112 petitions certified, 7% of the total; (3) South Korea – 1,878 petitions certified, 6% of the total; (4) Philippines – 1,631 petitions certified, 5% of the total; and (5) Canada – 1,591 petitions certified, 5% of the total.

The major reason for the decrease in cases is due to the U.S. economy from 2008 until the present. Although the 2010 annual report will not be available until next year, all indications are that the numbers will be nearly as low as the 2009 annual report.

The decrease in certified cases sheds a ray of hope on immigrant visa availability in the coming years. As HLG has noted repeatedly during the last year, the current retrogression in visa numbers is a result of a booming economy until 2007, an influx of permanent residence filings under the 245i law, and stalled processing at states prior to the new PERM system in 2005. However, once we get through that “bubble” of cases, the visa numbers should move more steadily since the volume of cases in the past three years has been significantly lower. The Philippines and countries other than India and China will fair the best.

The annual report also included data on the labor condition application approvals for the H-1b program. While that data showed increases in the number of certifications, that data is not an indicator of overall numbers since a large portion of the increase is attributed to H-1b transfers (moving from one employer to another) or amended LCA’s (when there is a change in job site).