How Can you Increase H-1B Approvals with Right SOC Codes?

Published On
Mar 26, 2020
Read Time
7 Minutes
Krishna Garimella

Standard Occupational Classification codes or simply SOC codes are an integral part in hiring foreign nationals on H-1B visa. They are also one of the key factors in deciding your H-1B approvals. You might know that an employer's failure in establishing the job as a Specialty Occupation can lead to an RFE. But, are you aware that it is one of the top 10 reasons to receive an RFE?
Yes, USCIS has released a breakdown of why RFEs were issued for H-1B Petitions in FY 2018 out of which specialty occupation stands out as one of the top reasons.

Specialty Occupation

Specialty occupation is not new to US employers who hire foreign nationals. Any employer filing an H-1B petition should prove that the job specified is a specialty occupation. As per the USCIS, it should be as defined in section 214(i)(1) of the Act 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(ii) and/or that it meets at least one of the four criteria in 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii).

In brief, it means that the job specified should require a U.S. bachelor's degree or its equivalent in the relevant field of study. The job requirements must establish a direct connection between the work performed and educational qualifications. For example, a graduate in Mechanical Engineering will find it difficult to establish a direct connection  for the role of a Software Developer, unless the beneficiary has taken computer science courses in his Mechanical Engineering curriculum.

According to BLS, a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and strong computer programming skills are required for the role of Software Developer.  

Increase in Specialty Occupation RFEs. Why?

What might be the reason for a drastic increase in specialty occupation RFEs during the past three years? One of the main reasons is Trump's Buy American and Hire American policy.

In recent years, USCIS is following strict norms in adjudicating immigration cases. It includes an extra level of scrutiny in analyzing specialty occupations for which it primarily follows the DOL's statistical wing OOH (Operational Outlook Handbook). The key components that help in analyzing specialty occupations are Job Duties, SOC Codes, and Wage levels.

Job Duties:

Job duties specify all the roles and responsibilities of the position offered. A detailed specification of all the job duties is a key factor in analyzing specialty occupation. If the job duties are not broke down to finer details it can lead to an RFE.

SOC Codes :

Standard Occupational Classification Code, this is a deciding factor for determining wages. SOC system is a standard classification used by all federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data. USCIS classified all job categories into 867 detailed occupations based on the job specification. To facilitate classification, detailed occupations are combined to form 459 broad occupations, 98 minor groups, and 23 major groups. This way occupations with similar job responsibilities, skills, and educational requirements may correspond to a common group. SOC code is a hyphenated number, in which each number represents a group of classification.

The  SOC code for major group (Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media Occupations) is 27-0000.

Let's consider, you have to look up SOC code for Graphic designers, this is how the classification of codes work:

How Can You Avoid H-1B RFEs with Right SOC Codes?

Wage Level:

Each job category has four different wage levels, starting from Level 1 to Level 4. In a direct sense, prevailing wages imply significance of the position offered. Here are the three key factors that guide employers in determining wage level:

  1. Nature of the job offer
  2. Work location of the job
  3. Job responsibilities

If we analyze specialty occupation RFEs in recent years, we can understand that USCIS may reject H-1B visa if the wage levels offered for the job is not matching the job responsibilities. The actual wage offered must either match or exceed the prevailing wage for that job relevant to its immediate location.

Where Employers Go Wrong?

Assigning a Right SOC Code

Employers or attorneys who are filing H-1B petitions face challenges in the getting SOC code right. Why? There are several reasons to it. One of them is picking the SOC code based on Job title, instead of  job duties. But, one has to remember that SOC codes should match Job duties. A great place to look up for SOC codes that match your job duties is O*Net. This is where the employer has to compare the job duties with all the similar duties available in O*Net. This is a challenging task that may lead to manual errors and H-1B petitions may end up in RFEs.

Why doesn't every job title have its own code in the SOC?
Occupational classification schemes examine and organize the millions of jobs and tens of thousands of job titles in the economy into occupations based upon their similarities as determined by the scheme's classification principles. The organizing principle of the SOC system is work performed rather than job title so there are many fewer occupation codes in the SOC than there are jobs in the economy.  

USCIS mandates the selection of SOC codes based on job requirements rather than on job titles. But, this requires a lot of effort from employers who need to manually interpret job requirements and then map the right SOC codes accordingly. Isn't this a tedious task for employers who file multiple H-1B petitions?  
In order to avoid such hassle, sometimes employers select a widely-used SOC code that is relevant to the job title, instead of focusing on requirements. But, this would lead to RFEs, as USCIS is following a finer evaluation process in analyzing SOC codes.

Determining Wage Levels

Wage levels are an important aspect to approve H-1Bs. But, some employers end-up offering lower wage levels that don't match the duties of the job offered. This is primarily due to lack of awareness.  USCIS seems to have reservations for Level-1 wages being offered to specialty occupations.  For example, Level-1 wages cannot be offered to a Lead/ Supervisory role. If you select Level-1 wages for a specialty occupation, your chances of getting an RFE is quite high.

OnBlick's SOC Predictor & Wage level Calculator

OnBlick is a SaaS-based application designed and developed for guiding organizations in attaining compliance. It is enhanced with features that add tremendous value to organizations. One such feature is SOC Predictor and wage level calculator. It assimilates data from the regulatory sources such as O*Net/FLC Data/BLS.gov and suggests appropriate SOC codes that match the actual job duties using AI technologies. Not just that, it even recommends prevailing wage levels based on the type of duties the beneficiary has to perform. This avoids any potential errors in the selection of SOC codes and wage levels.

Be it attorneys or employers, you can save a lot of time and can assign appropriate SOC codes using this intelligent system. This H-1B Cap season, don't let an inappropriate SOC code or wage level be the reason for your H-1B denial. Integrate with OnBlick today.

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