The Dreaded Specialty Occupation RFE – How Does USCIS Determine Occupation Eligibility?

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Going into the upcoming H1B season, it’s important to understand the approach CIS takes to determine visa eligibility. This will help you build a strong case for why your employee or client should get one of the 65,000 H1B visas, or additional 20,000 H1B visas for beneficiaries with Masters degrees or higher.

To understand how this works, we need to look at the definitions CIS uses by which to measure the jobs in questions.

On the base level, CIS references the Immigration Act of 1990, which defines a specialty occupation as a job that requires application of a highly specialized body of knowledge on a practical and theoretical level, and requires the worker to have earned a US bachelor’s degree or higher, or its equivalent as a minimum requirement for entry into that job in the United States. It’s important to note here that the job itself needs to require this educational minimum, it is not enough for the beneficiary to have earned a bachelors degree if it’s not needed to gain entry to the field.

This definition serves as the basis for what CIS will consider a job that qualifies for H1B status. However, this definition is too simplistic to apply to the nature of specialized occupations in the real world. Jobs do not exist in a vacuum, and different states have different educational requirements for entry into many specialized occupations. Some require a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum, and others don’t for the same job, just across state lines.

There are two standards that allow for some level of subjectivity within the industry, and at the discretion of the employer that factor into CIS’ determination. The first is the industry standard criteria, added in 1990. What this standard means for H1B occupations is that the position in question must typically require the attainment of a US bachelors degree or higher as a minimum requirement, and that in similar organizations, this same baseline qualification is standard for this position.

The second is the employer-standard, which becomes useful when the job in question doesn’t meet the industry standard because of circumstances unique to the position and company in question. To meet CIS specialization requirements by this standard, the employer must typically require a US bachelors degree or higher for the position in question, and that the nature and duties of this position are uniquely specialized so as to require this advanced degree.

If your client or employee is in one such job, you need to go a step further in the petition to show that state regulations for this occupation meet H1B specialization requirements. Likewise, if your employee or client has a job that does require an advanced degree, but does not obviously require an advanced degree, detailed evidence and documentation is needed to prove specialization to CIS.

At TheDegreePeople, we work with RFEs and difficult cases every year. We know what jobs and degrees trigger RFEs, and we know how to prevent them. Visit for a no-charge and no-obligation review of your client or employee’s case.

This article was written by Rebecca Little