Guide to Specialty Occupation RFE

Updated on April 11, 2024

At a Glance

  • A specialty occupation, a requirement for an H1B visa, involves the application of highly specialized knowledge, both theoretically and practically, with a minimum entry requirement of a bachelor’s or higher degree in a related field.
  • To qualify as a specialty occupation, the position must meet specific criteria, including a common industry degree requirement, the complexity or uniqueness of the position, or specialized and complex duties.
  • It’s common to receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) for a specialty occupation H1B visa application. Responding strategically, potentially with legal doctrine or expert opinion letters, is crucial for success.
  • Seeking guidance from an immigration attorney is advisable to navigate the complexities of the application process and effectively address any RFEs.

Every year thousands of highly skilled foreign nationals apply to work in the U.S. on the H1B visa. The long list of requirements for an H1B visa, including the “specialty occupation” requirement isn’t new. What is new, however, is the increase in specialty occupation RFE (Requests for Evidence) the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been issuing. 

One of the most common reasons why the USCIS issues an RFE in H1B petitions is because, in their application, the petitioner didn’t show the position they will be filling qualifies as a specialty occupation. Because the application lacks the required evidence, the USCIS issues a specialty occupation RFE.

In this article, we’ll look at what a specialty occupation is, what you need to prove you meet this requirement, and what can do if you receive a specialty occupation RFE.

What is a Specialty Occupation?

One of the requirements to qualify for an H1B visa is you have to prove the position you will be taking up in the United States is a “specialty occupation”.

A “specialty occupation” is defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act as “an occupation that requires (a) theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and (b) attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.”

Basically, this definition requires two things for a position to be a specialty occupation:

  1. The position must require no less than the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree in a field that is related to the position, and
  2. The H1B applicant must have no less than the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree in an area related to the position’s requirements.

How is a Specialty Occupation Determined

For a position to pass the test of being a “specialty occupation“, the position must meet at least one of the following requirements:

  1. A bachelor’s or higher degree (or its equivalent) is usually the minimum requirement to enter the specific position
  2. The degree requirement is common to the industry in similar positions among similar organizations or, alternatively, an employer may show that its particular position is so complex or unique that only an individual with a degree can perform it;
  3. The employer typically requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; OR
  4. The nature of the specific duties required for the position is so specialized and complex that the knowledge needed to perform the duties is usually associated with a bachelor’s or higher degree.

So, before the position you are offered in the U.S. will be regarded as a “specialty occupation,” you must prove the position meets at least one of the above four criteria.

Also, keep in mind that the position requires a “bachelor’s degree” isn’t enough to prove specialty occupation. The bachelor’s degree required must be in a “specific specialty” or a specific field related to the position. So, even if you show the position requires a bachelor’s degree, the bachelor’s degree that is required must still be in a specific field related to the position.

What is a Request for Evidence?

When you apply for a visa, the USCIS has to determine whether your application and the information and documentation you provided prove you meet the visa requirements. If the USCIS agent believes you haven’t provided sufficient evidence to prove this or they have specific questions that relate to your application, the USCIS will issue you with an RFE.

An RFE isn’t a denial, so don’t worry if you get one. In fact, you can see it as a positive as there is still a chance your visa can be approved.

You can read more about Requests for Evidence here.

Unfortunately, even though the purpose of an RFE should be to gather more evidence after a USCIS agent has properly considered your case, the USCIS also issues RFEs for more general reasons.

Why Would You Get an RFE for a Specialty Occupation?

The simple truth is specialty occupation RFE has been on the rise since the April 2017 Presidential Executive Order.

USCIS agents often reference the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) as a source for whether a position is a specialty occupation. If a USCIS agent believes the typical OOH requirements are not similar to your position’s duties, they can issue an RFE. Or, if the USCIS agent believes the entry-level educational requirements for your position according to the OOH are not a bachelor’s degree, the USCIS agent has the discretion to issue an RFE. But the USCIS agent can use his or her discretion to issue an RFE for any other reason as well.

An RFE is very likely if your position has an atypical title or if it doesn’t fit perfectly into an existing OOH category.

Recently USCIS agents have also been drilling into details more and more. USCIS agents don’t just consider whether the position is, in fact, a specialty occupation. They also consider whether all the duties each week (and even each day) are similar to specialty occupation duties and responsibilities.

Considering this, if you are applying for an H1B visa, the chances you will be receiving a specialty occupation RFE are relatively high.

What to Do if You Get a Specialty Occupation RFE

If you get a specialty occupation RFE, don’t stress. It is a chance to re-argue your case to the USCIS. But even though an RFE is a second chance, it is also probably your last chance. So, it’s crucial if you get a specialty occupation RFE to make sure you answer it correctly and strategically.

In some situations, your answer will have to be based on legal doctrine. Or you may have to provide documentation such as an expert opinion letter (a letter from an expert in the field vouching that the position is a specialty occupation) or a manager support letter (showing your company’s motivation on why the position is a specialty occupation).

Approaching an immigration attorney at this point may be your best option to ensure your application is successful. An immigration attorney will know exactly what documents to provide to prove your case.

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If you are applying for an H1B visa, you should expect a specialty occupation RFE. But this is nothing to be afraid of. Being ready for a specialty occupation RFE and having a strategy on how you will tackle it could make all the difference. Consider approaching an immigration attorney for help. Even though this will cost more in the short-term, it could be the difference between your H1B denial or approval.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What Does “RFE” Stand for in the Context of Specialty Occupation?

In the context of specialty occupation, “RFE” stands for “Request for Evidence.” It is a formal request issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) when they need additional information or documentation to make a decision on a visa application, particularly H-1B visa applications for specialty occupations.

2. Why Would an H-1B Visa Petition Receive an RFE for Specialty Occupation?

An H-1B visa petition may receive an RFE for specialty occupation if the USCIS adjudicator reviewing the petition has concerns about whether the position qualifies as a specialty occupation. This could be due to insufficient documentation provided by the petitioner to establish that the job meets the criteria for a specialty occupation.

3. What Is a Specialty Occupation?

A specialty occupation is a term used in the context of H-1B visas. It refers to a position that requires a specialized and specific body of knowledge, usually at the bachelor’s degree level or higher, to perform the job duties. These positions typically involve fields such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and other specialized areas.

4. How Should I Respond to an RFE for Specialty Occupation?

If you receive an RFE for specialty occupation, it’s essential to respond promptly and thoroughly. This typically involves providing additional evidence, documentation, or clarifications to address the USCIS’s concerns. It’s advisable to work with an immigration attorney or a qualified professional to prepare a comprehensive and convincing response to the RFE.

5. Can an RFE for Specialty Occupation Lead to Visa Denial?

While receiving an RFE is not a visa denial, it indicates that the USCIS needs more information to make a decision. If the RFE response does not adequately address the USCIS’s concerns or if the evidence provided is insufficient, it could potentially lead to a visa denial. Therefore, it’s crucial to respond to the RFE accurately and comprehensively.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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