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Specialty Occupation and Wage Level H1B RFEs: Who Dropped the Ball?

When an RFE arrives, it means CIS does not have enough information from the initial H1B petition to make a decision about your case, or your employee or client’s case.

If you or your employee or client receives an RFE, don’t panic. RFEs have become very common, and can be a helpful tool to fortify the case for approval. Sit down with your team and carefully read through the RFE, then put the RFE down and go back to the original H1B eligibility requirements and see where the case is lacking. In this process, it is important to see who dropped the ball, and how to pick it back up. This does not mean pointing fingers, placing blame, or spouting anger. Oftentimes the reason for the RFE is changing CIS approval trends. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault.

Specialty occupation and wage level RFEs jumped ahead of education RFEs in response to last year’s lottery. H1B requirements state that to be eligible for this visa the job must require a minimum of a US bachelor’s degree or higher or its equivalent to gain entry into the position. This must be an industry standard, or you must go a step further to prove that this position is uniquely specialized and holding an advanced degree is consistent with employer hiring practices. The job must also pay the prevailing wage for the job in the industry, for companies of that size in that geographical location.

Last year, computer programmers making level 1 wages were hit especially hard with RFEs. CIS claimed that since some employers will hire entry-level computer programmers with only an associate’s degree, the job does not meet specialization requirements, or the wage level is not set correctly. One of the main problems with the reasoning for this RFE is that wage level does not necessarily determine the specialization of the position, rather it is set in accordance with the prevailing wage and takes the level of training and supervision required for the employee into consideration as well.

Specialty occupation RFEs and wage level RFEs are so interconnected they often come together. Now that we know what we’re dealing with, let’s see where the fault may lie.

Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault. CIS approval trends change, and the best we can do is learn for the approval trends of last year, and what RFE responses worked and which ones did not. Sometimes it’s CIS’ fault. You could file an immaculate petition and still receive an RFE. CIS could be unreasonable with their justification for the RFE, or just plain wrong. Whatever the reason, you still must answer it.

Sometimes the attorney will make a mistake when filing, there will be omitted pages in the petition, or it will be filed out of order. Sometimes it’s the beneficiary’s fault. Providing poorly translated educational documents, misconceptions about the value of a credential’s academic value, and providing misleading or false information in resumes happens. These mistakes are not necessarily on purpose, even if it involves providing false information. Sometimes names are misspelled or answers are inconsistent from one document to the next.

Sometimes it’s the employer’s fault. Maybe the job really is set at the wrong wage level. Maybe the job indicated in the LCA is different than the job title in the petition. Inconsistencies across documents are easy mistakes to make, especially in the rush to file by April 1st, but these mistakes have far-reaching consequences. Maybe your team didn’t provide enough detailed evidence regarding the duties and responsibilities of the job in question.

Whatever the reason for the RFE, it’s important that you identify where the case is lacking in evidence, whose job it is to provide it, and fix it. At Evaluation Credentials, we work with difficult RFEs every year. We can help you identify what went wrong and how to fix it. For a free review of your case visit EvaluationCredentials.com.  We will get back to you in 48 hours or less.

FY2017 H-1B Predictions and Requirements

The past decade has seen a significant annual increase in H-1b petitions, and this year the trend is projected to continue. Experts estimate that more than 200,000 H-1b petitions will be filed this year before CIS closes its doors after the mandatory five days of accepting petitions. For cap-subjected H-1b jobs, there are only 65,000 visas available for candidates with US bachelor’s degrees or it’s equivalent or higher, and an additional 20,000 H-1b visas with candidates with US master’s degrees or its equivalent or higher available. There will most definitely be a lottery, and that means you and your client need to have your petition ready, spotless, and filed on April First of this year.

But what does a spotless petition look like?

Your client’s petition must meet H-1b requirements as well as current CIS trends to be approved. CIS has been issuing more and more RFE’s every year, up from around 4% less than a decade ago to 25% in recent years as responses to H-1b petitions. That means your client has a one in four chance of receiving an RFE that the two of you will have to address. Your client doesn’t have to be a statistic so long as you clearly show that your client and his or her job and employer meet H-1b requirements in adherence to current CIS trends.

What are the H-1b requirements and how do trends affect how to properly evidence these requirements?

  1. Your client’s job must be a specialty occupation. This means that to perform the duties of the job, your client must hold a US bachelor’s degree or higher or its equivalent in a related field. In recent years however, CIS has issued RFE’s for degrees that do not exactly match candidates’ job titles. If your client’s major is not an exact match for his or her job title, you need to find a credential evaluation agency that can take a close look at your client’s education to count classroom contact hours in classes matching your client’s job towards a degree equivalency. The evaluator can also convert years of progressive work experience in the field to years of college credit in the major of your client’s job offer. To show that your client’s job is a specialty occupation, you need to provide evidence that your client’s employer requires this degree for this job, and that similar positions in similar companies also require an advanced degree. If this is not the case, you need to provide evidence as to why your client’s particular job is so specifically complex as to require an advanced degree to carry out its duties.
  1. Your client must hold a US bachelor’s degree or higher or its equivalent. H-1b visas are for specialty occupations that require a bachelor’s degree or higher to perform. If your client has a US bachelor’s degree or higher or its equivalent, and the degree matches the job, all you have to do is submit the educational documents with the petition. However, if your client’s degree is from a different country – particularly a country with a three-year bachelor’s degree – you need to have your client’s education evaluated for US equivalence. This is because educational systems vary from country to country, and CIS must clearly see the value of your client’s education in terms of US educational value. Some post-secondary degrees from other countries are the equivalent of US bachelor’s degrees even though the word “degree” is not in the title. Others are not. A detailed evaluation from a credential evaluator with expert understanding of international education is needed to meet this requirement. For three-year degrees, a progressive work experience conversion is needed to fill in the missing fourth year. Although three-year degrees, like the Indian three-year degree, have the same if not more number of classroom contact hours as a US four-year degree, CIS does not accept this equivalency on face without a detailed credential evaluation.
  1. There must be an employer-employee relationship. This means that your client’s employer can hire, fire, promote, pay, and otherwise control the work your client does. You can show this by submitting a copy of the employee contract or providing other documentation regarding your client’s job.
  1. Your client must be paid the prevailing wage for his or her job. Prevailing wage is determined based on the job, the company, the geographic location, and other factors. To prove that your client will be paid the prevailing wage for his or her job, you need to provide evidence that states common salaries for your client’s occupation in similar companies in similar locations, as well as proof that your client’s employer will be paying that wage. At the same time, you also have to show that your client’s employer is economically viable to pay your client the prevailing wage without affecting the salaries of other employees, operating costs, or other aspects of the business.

Before you file your client’s H-1b petition, have a credential evaluator review his or her education to make sure all your ducks are in a row. If you submit a petition without an evaluation where one is needed, you can expect an RFE. While an RFE is not the end of the world, it is a big red flag on your client’s petition, and will trigger CIS to comb over the petition and find misplaced details that would otherwise have gone by unnoticed. CIS has a big job to do when it comes to cap-subject H-1b visa selection. Make their job easier by making sure your client’s visa is easy to approve, not by giving them a big red flag to look at.

Sheila Danzig

Sheila Danzig is the Executive Director of TheDegreePeople.com a Foreign Credentials Evaluation Agency. For a no charge analysis of any difficult case, RFE, Denial, or NOID, please go to http://www.ccifree.com/ or call 800.771.4723.