If you're a foreign national studying or working in a field related to computers or information technology (IT), you may have heard varying things about the H-1B visa and IT jobs.
On the one hand, it may appear that anyone with an IT job gets an H-1B visa. On the other hand, you may also have heard that there are some IT jobs that won't qualify for an H-1B visa. Confused? Keep reading to learn more.
Basic H-1B Requirements
The H-1B visa is for someone to work in a "specialty occupation." This means that the job must require a bachelor's degree in a specific field. The U.S. government’s H-1B regulations provide four ways in which an employer can demonstrate that its job requires a bachelor's degree:
- A bachelor's degree normally is the entry-level requirement for the job.
- A bachelor's degree is common in the industry among comparable employers.
- The employer normally requires a degree for the job, or
- The job duties "are so specialized and complex" that you typically need to have a bachelor's degree to perform them.
Application of H-1B Requirements to Particular IT Jobs
Some IT jobs, such as Software Engineer, Software Developer, Database Administrator, Computer Systems Analyst, clearly meet this standard. In these examples, there generally is an accepted industry standard that you need to have at least a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering, information systems or a related field to get the job.
Therefore, employers should have a relatively easy time convincing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that such jobs qualify for H-1B visas.
The occupation of Computer Programmer in the late 1990's and early 2000's created some challenges. At that time, USCIS often viewed Programmers as worker bees who simply enter code into a computer.
In fairness, sometimes this was correct. As the occupation has evolved, however, Programmers now routinely must evaluate how new programming efforts will impact existing parts of the overall system and make appropriate adjustments to achieve the desired functionality. This higher-level role typically requires a theoretical background in computer science concepts. It therefore is now is the norm, or certainly more common than before, for employers to require Programmers to have a relevant bachelor's degree.
It may be difficult to get an H-1B visa for other IT jobs. For example, a Help Desk Analyst role may not have a four-year degree requirement. If the position involves addressing basic hardware and end user applications, such as the Microsoft Office suite, it may not be sufficiently complex to require a degree. Such a role would require a close examination to determine if perhaps the employer always has required a specific degree. In that case, it may qualify for H-1B classification under the third prong above.
Further examples of IT jobs that could present challenges in qualifying for an H-1B visas are those that continue to evolve, such as Web Developers and smart phone App Developers. Many such jobs simply require that you can do the work. And while the work is complex and requires a certain level of expertise, many Web and App Developers learn on their own or take a basic class and quickly become skilled developers. As a result, it's difficult to demonstrate that the job requires a bachelor's degree. But again, a careful review of the job under the criteria noted above is necessary before making a final determination.
The employer's internal job description and job advertisements often contain helpful details concerning the educational requirements. Another resource, which USCIS considers highly persuasive, is the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). The OOH contains many recognized jobs and includes a summary of the usual educational requirements. By reviewing these items together, you can gain a fairly strong sense of whether a particular IT job can qualify for an H-1B visa.
Finally, keep in mind that in addition to the job itself requiring a specific bachelor's degree, you must have a relevant degree to get the visa. See the many nolo.com articles on the H-1B visa for more guidance and consult an immigration attorney if you still have questions.