On April 3, 2017, the first filing day for fiscal year 2018 H-1B petitions, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a policy memorandum changing guidance on the H-1B specialty occupation designation for computer programmers. The memo, “Guidance Memo on H-1B Computer Related Positions,” supersedes and rescinds a memo with the same title issued December 22, 2000.

The new memo states that petitioners may not rely solely on the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) to prove that an entry-level computer programmer position is a specialty occupation: “[I]t is improper to conclude based on this information that USCIS would ‘generally consider the position of programmer to qualify as a specialty occupation.'” Among other things, the new memo states that the earlier memo “does not properly explain or distinguish an entry-level position from one that is, for example, more senior, complex, specialized, or unique.” The fact that a computer programmer may use information technology skills and knowledge to help an enterprise achieve its goals in the course of his or her job “is not sufficient to establish the position as a specialty occupation,” the memo states. Thus, “a petitioner may not rely solely on the [OOH] to meet its burden” and must provide other evidence.

Many such H-1B applications presumably have already been filed, along with fees of several thousand dollars per application that the agency can keep whether it approves or denies the application. Attorneys are expecting an increase in requests for evidence challenging eligibility and in denials of applications for H-1B computer programmers, although some say this approach has been going on for some time.

The USCIS memo is at https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/nativedocuments/PM-6002-0142-H-1BComputerRelatedPositionsRecission.pdf.