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The Key to H1B Success: Meeting the Specialty Occupation Criteria


What Does Specialty Occupation Mean?

Among the requirements for obtaining an H1B visa is securing a position classified as a “specialty occupation,” which requires a specific skill set in a specialized field. In fact, one of the most common reasons the USCIS issues a Request for Evidence (RFE) for an H1B application is to challenge that the applicant’s position does not qualify as a specialty occupation. Thus, we must examine what the USCIS means by specialty occupation and how visa officers sometimes interpret this requirement.

The USCIS definition of specialty occupation

According to the USCIS, a specialty occupation is defined 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.” 

For a job to be considered a specialty occupation under USCIS regulations, it must meet one or more specific criteria. Furthermore, if you lack a bachelor’s or higher degree, you may also qualify for an H1B visa through experience, as long as you can demonstrate expertise gained through “progressively responsible positions relating to the specialty.” In particular, the three-for-one rule allows three years of specialized training or work experience to be substituted for each year of college-level education you’re missing.

Specialty occupation RFEs

However, despite seemingly straightforward requirements for determining a specialty occupation, many H1B applicants receive an RFE questioning whether their position fits the specified requirements.

While occupations that are widely known to require specialized training–such as physicians, attorneys, and university professors–are less likely to be scrutinized by a visa officer, few other positions are exempt from scrutiny. The USCIS often refers to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) to determine if a position qualifies as a specialty occupation. Positions that do not explicitly require a bachelor’s degree or higher, or those who accept applications from various fields of study, are especially prone to scrutiny.

More specifically, the USCIS might issue you an RFE if they find discrepancies between your job duties and typical OOH requirements. RFEs are also likely for atypical job titles or non-conforming OOH categories. A visa officer might scrutinize whether daily and weekly duties align with stated specialty occupation standards, increasing the chances of your receiving an RFE.

Avoiding a specialty occupation RFE

To avoid an RFE for your H1B petition, especially those questioning the specialty occupation criteria, you must carefully document your job’s requirements and your qualifications to fill the role. Indeed, the USCIS emphasizes the importance of a detailed job description linking your role to specific educational prerequisites, as well as a legitimate employer-employee relationship through contractual documents.

Educational requirements

Foremost, you must demonstrate a clear connection between your degree and the requirements of the job role. This includes detailing the relevance of your educational background to your specialized knowledge, as well as how this knowledge is essential to performing the job.

Moreover, the USCIS may issue an RFE if they feel your degree major is not specialized enough. For instance, a general degree in engineering may cause problems for your application, whereas a degree in chemical or mechanical engineering would likely be seen as more specialized.

Likewise, a general MBA might trigger an RFE if the visa officer determines that the skills and knowledge gained during your degree program are not specialized enough to warrant an H1B visa. To avoid this scenario, choosing an MBA with a concentration in an area like data analytics or healthcare management can bolster your case.

Additionally, if you received your relevant degree outside of the United States, submitting English translations, and degree equivalency documentation, can prevent an RFE or H1B denial.

Collaborating with your employer to define your role

Another strategy to avoid specialty occupation RFEs include consulting databases like the OOH to establish standard educational requirements and job duties for your position. Additionally, you and your employer should prepare detailed project documentation to attest to the complexity and specialized nature of your role.

For example, if your proposed employment is working as a computer scientist, your job duties might include website development, performance testing, research and development, and technical support and maintenance. While this might be an accurate overview of your role, it may be better to provide a detailed description of the projects you will work on.

In this scenario, you might provide details about plans to develop an AI-driven recommendation system to personalize shopping experiences, that you’ll analyze datasets of customer behavior, purchase history, and preferences. You could indicate that the project aims to enhance user engagement, increase sales, and improve customer satisfaction by delivering more accurate and tailored project suggestions in real-time. In essence, providing specific details about specific projects can help demonstrate the complexity and specialized nature of your work.

Moreover, you can minimize your risk of receiving an RFE by seeking employers experienced in H1B filings, who will be better able to assist you with careful petition preparation. In general, making sure your submitted materials are clear and detailed should help you avoid an RFE or H1B denial.


The role of the H1B visa in facilitating access to employment opportunities in the United States underlines the importance of skilled foreign workers to the U.S. economy and society. Your success in applying for an H1B visa depends on providing the USCIS with clear, detailed documentation of your job role and your qualifications, to ensure the visa officer clearly understands how your proposed employment meets the criteria of the H1B.

Having a clear understanding of these criteria is an essential step as you secure employment in the United States. Above all, you must understand that thorough preparation is necessary to avoid receiving an RFE for your H1B application.

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