As we have blogged about extensively in the past, President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order No. 13788 has had the most negative impact on the H-1B visa program. Following this pattern, the recent trend by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) heading into the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 H-1B Cap filing season has been to rely on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) to arbitrarily deny H-1B visa petitions for Information Technology (IT) positions, such as computer systems analysts. In RFEs and denial decisions, USCIS states that they recognize the OOH as an “authoritative source on the duties and educational requirements” of a variety of occupations, and has used the OOH’s general statements on such requirements to deny H-1B petitions for failing to establish that a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialty is the normal minimum requirement for entry into the position, despite statements in the OOH to the contrary. In addition, USCIS recently put out a statement entitled Combatting Fraud and Abuse in the H-1B Visa Program expressing an intent to continue to target H-1B dependent employers in the IT industry who assign H-1B workers at client sites.
One should expect the same sort of H-1B carnage like last year. No matter how well one responds to the request for evidence or argues the case before the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), the outcome could still be a preordained denial – as if Trump’s wall is already up. The key issue is whether there may be a different and effective strategy for overcoming next year’s H-1B cap denials, such as suing the USCIS in federal court.
USCIS has typically based these types of denials on claims that the proffered positions fail to qualify under any of the specialty occupation criteria listed in 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A). The USCIS has also challenged H-1Bs based on allegedly inappropriate wage levels, but the main concern is the USCIS entirely reading out acknowledged specialty occupations from the law.
As background, in order for a petitioner to hire a foreign worker in a specialty occupation under the H-1B visa program, the proffered position must meet the regulatory definition as one that “requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.” 8 CFR § 214.2(h)(4)(ii). This definition is met by satisfying at least one of the following criteria:
1. A baccalaureate 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 are so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree.