USCIS Narrows Meaning of a Specialty Occupation

USCIS is challenging employers on whether their positions fit the definition of a “specialty occupation.” It has become for the agency to issue “Requests for Additional Evidence” (RFEs) of employers, providing up to three months to respond. The Requests are overly broad, and a disguised tax on the company for filing the petition in the first place. It has been said that the agency anticipates denying as many as 25% of the applications submitted.  Applications were down this year, probably due to these bureaucratic challenges.  Many fear where this is going, with the best and the brightest opting for jobs elsewhere.

The requests can be several pages long.  In doing so, the agency is piling up the costs for businesses. This fits in with the Administration’s overall goal of making immigration harder. Or, as the Executive Order goes, “Buy American, Hire American.”

We are seeing businesses disrupted by this red tape, as new petitions and renewals for key personnel are challenged. The occupations most commonly challenged are managers and information technology professionals. Often, these professionals have many years of experience, and have seen past approvals from the agency.

In my experience, employers don’t typically want to sponsor H-1B professionals unless they have great cause to, due to the underlying costs. Employers don’t typically seek an attorney’s assistance to hire a professional, but that is standard for an H-1B.  There are just too many regulations and procedures to navigate. However, the U.S. has record unemployment and a shortage of qualified STEM professionals right now. So, the H-1B program has the potential to help businesses.

Here is the Request for Evidence template that many petitioners are receiving:

Specialty Occupation

A specialty occupation is one that requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and which requires the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum, for entry into the occupation in the United States.
USCIS does not use the job title, by itself, when determining whether a particular position qualifies as a specialty occupation. The specific duties of the proffered position, combined with the nature of the petitioning entity’s business operations, are factors that USCIS considers.

To qualify as a specialty occupation, the position must meet at least one of the following criteria:

1. Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position;
2. The degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree;
3. The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
4. The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.

USCIS interprets the term degree in the above criteria to mean not just any degree, but a degree in a specific field of study that is directly related to the proffered position.

To show that the position offered to the beneficiary qualifies as a specialty occupation, you submitted:

• A certified Labor Condition Application (LCA)
• Other evidence described, relating to occupation title

The Occupational Outlook Handbook (“OOH”) (a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor) indicates that a [occupation title] is an occupation that does not require a bachelor’s level of education or higher or its equivalent in a specific specialty as a normal, minimum for entry into the occupation.

You have not shown that the position offered to the beneficiary is a specialty occupation. You may submit additional evidence to satisfy this requirement.

Evidence may include, but is not limited to:
• A detailed statement to:
o explain the beneficiary’s proposed duties and responsibilities;
o indicate the percentage of time devoted to each duty; and
o state the educational requirements for these duties.
• A copy of a line-and-block organizational chart showing your hierarchy and staffing levels. The organizational chart should:
o list all divisions in the organization;
o identify the proffered position in the chart;
o show the names and job titles for those persons, if any, whose work will come under the control of the proposed position; and
o indicate who will direct the beneficiary, by name and job title.
• Job postings or advertisements showing a degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations.
• Letters from an industry-related professional association indicating that they have made a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty a requirement for entry into the field.
• Copies of letter or affidavits from firms or individuals in the industry that attest that similar organizations routinely employ and recruit only degreed individuals in a specific specialty. Any letter or affidavit should be supported by the following:
o The writer’s qualifications as an expert;
o How the conclusions were reached; and
o The basis for the conclusions supported by copies or citations of any materials used.
• Copies of your present and past job postings or announcements for the proffered position showing that you require applicants to have a minimum of a bachelor’s or higher degree in a specific specialty or its equivalent.
• Documentary evidence of your past employment practices for the position, including:
o Copies of employment or pay records; and
o Copies of degrees or transcripts to verify the level of education of each individual and the field of study for which the degree was earned.
• An explanation of what differentiates your product and services from other employers in the same industry and why a bachelor’s level of education in a specific field of study is a prerequisite for entry into the proffered position. Be specific and provide documentation to support any explanation of complexity.
• Copies of documentary examples of work product created by current or prior employees in a similar position, such as:
o Reports;
o Presentations;
o Evaluation;
o Designs; or
o Blueprints.
• Additional information about your organization, such as:
o Press releases;
o Business plans;

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