What is Specialty Occupation in H-1B Applications

What is Specialty Occupations in H-1B Visa Applications

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Last updated: April 8, 2024.

H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa category in the United States that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations or as fashion models of distinguished merit and ability. To be eligible for H-1B visa, the employer must show that:

  1. The position offered is a “specialty occupation
  2. Foreign employee meets the requirements for the specialty occupation

In H-1B petitions, U.S. employers are called “Petitioners”, and the foreign national employees are considered “Beneficiaries”.

What is a Specialty Occupation?

“Specialty occupation” is defined as an occupation that requires:

  1. Theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and
  2. Attainment of bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the U.S.

To qualify as a specialty occupation, an offered position must meet the following criteria:

  • A bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum entry requirement for a position
  • The degree requirement is common to the industry or, in the alternative, the position is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree
  • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position
  • The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.

USCIS will  closely scrutinize whether the positions are actually specialty occupations, and the beneficiary simply having a bachelor’s degree might not be enough to meet the requirements.

Some of the occupations where H-1B visas are available include:

  • Engineering;
  • Mathematics;
  • Physical Sciences;
  • Business specialties;
  • Law;
  • Architecture;
  • Social Sciences;
  • Medicine and health;
  • Education;
  • Accounting;
  • Arts

How to Qualify for the Specialty Occupation

To meet the specialty occupation requirements, the beneficiary must meet the following requirements:

  • Have a state license, if that is required for the occupation
  • Completion of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree (or its foreign equivalent) in the specific specialty or a related field; or
  • Education, training, or experience in the specialty equivalent to the completion of such a degree.

State license. If a professional license is required for practice of the occupation, the beneficiary must possess a full state license, an interim permit to practice occupation from the appointed state, or practicing without a license under state-approved supervision. H-1B petitions may be approved in one-year increments if a state license is not available because the beneficiary does not possess a valid Social Security card or employment authorization but otherwise meets the other license requirements and is awaiting approval of a license application. One-year H-1B status approvals are also given in cases where a person is in possession of a temporary license. In the case of a license with a maximum duration of one year, an H-1B approval for up to three years is still available. 

College or University Degree. The type and level of degree required depends on the particular specialty occupation. Some specialty occupations such as research scientists may require an advanced PhD degree as a minimum entry requirement. For the majority of other occupations, a bachelor’s degree will be sufficient. 

Foreign degree. USCIS will accept proof of a foreign university degree if it has been evaluated by a competent independent credentials evaluator such as American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Private credentials evaluation companies provide a report for submission with an H-1B petition that will:

  • Consider formal education only (versus practical experience);
  • State whether the applicant completed the U.S. equivalent of high school before entering college;
  • Provide a detailed explanation of the material evaluated; and
  • Briefly state the qualifications and experience of the evaluator providing the opinion.

Experience and degree equivalence. The immigration laws allow beneficiaries of H-1B petitions to qualify for a specialty occupation based on experience that is equivalent to the bachelor’s degree. This equivalency can be shown through:

  • Evaluation from an official who has authority to grant credit for experience in the specialty at an accredited college or university;
  • Results of college-level equivalency examinations or special credit programs; or
  • Certification or registration from nationally recognized professional associations for the specialty.

For a bachelor’s degree, three years of progressive work experience in a field will be considered as one year of full-time study in a bachelor’s program. So, twelve years of progressive work experience in a specialty occupation would be equivalent to a bachelor’s degree.

Experience alone cannot substitute a master’s or PhD degree. To show equivalence to a master’s degree, the beneficiary must show possession of a bachelor’s degree and plus five years of experience in the specialty.

USCIS will look into what are the industry-wide standards in an occupation. USCIS officers reviewing H-1B petitions will often refer to the DOL’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) to determine the normal duties and basic educational and experience requirements for a given occupation. The OOH is available online.

How can Physicians Apply for H-1B?

There are additional H-1B requirements to demonstrate qualification for employment for the medical doctor occupation. 

The additional requirements are set for physicians engaged in patient care vs teaching or doing research.

In order to obtain an H-1B visa, a foreign physician must meet the following requirements:

  1. Have an approved Labor Condition Application (LCA);
  2. A license or other authorization required by the state of intended employment to practice medicine;
  3. Pass the Federation Licensing Examination (FLEX) or its equivalent the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE); and
  4. Submit proof of competency in written or oral English; or
  5. Have graduated from a U.S. Secretary of Education accredited U.S. medical school.

Related Links:

H-1B Visas

How to Apply for H-1B

Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker

Labor Condition Application (LCA)

The H-1B Cap – Annual Numerical Limitations

H-1B Checklist of Required Documents