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USCIS Issues Policy Memo on Adjudication of H-1B Petitions for Nursing Occupations


On July 11, 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy memorandum providing guidance on the adjudication of H-1B petitions for nursing positions. The memo assists USCIS officers in determining whether a nursing position meets the definition of a specialty occupation. The memo states that it supersedes any prior guidance on the subject and is binding on all USCIS employees unless specifically exempted. USCIS noted that about 12 years have passed since USCIS issued guidance on determining whether a nursing position is a specialty occupation. USCIS decided it was time to update this guidance.

As background, the memo notes that the H-1B visa classification allows a U.S. employer to petition for a temporary worker in a specialty occupation. Most registered nurse (RN) positions do not qualify as specialty occupations because they do not normally require a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in nursing (or its equivalent) as the minimum for entry into those positions. In some situations, however, a petitioner may be able to show that a nursing position qualifies as a specialty occupation, the memo states. For example, certain advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) positions normally require a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in a specialty as the minimum for entry.

The updated guidance notes that the private sector “is increasingly showing a preference for more highly educated nurses.” Among other influences, the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program recognizes health-care organizations that advance nursing excellence and leadership. Achieving Magnet status indicates that an institution’s nursing workforce has attained a number of high standards, with an emphasis on bachelor’s degrees.

The memo lists some of the nursing positions that may qualify as specialty occupations. The memo notes that having a bachelor’s degree is not, by itself, sufficient to qualify for H-1B classification. A critical factor, the memo states, is whether a bachelor’s or higher degree is normally required for the position. A beneficiary’s credentials to perform a particular job are relevant only when the job is found to qualify as a specialty occupation. USCIS noted that it must “follow long-standing legal standards and determine whether the proffered position qualifies as a specialty occupation, and whether a beneficiary is qualified for the position at the time the nonimmigrant visa petition is filed.”

Among other things, the memo notes that if a state requires at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing to obtain a nursing license, a registered nurse position in that state would generally be considered a specialty occupation. No state currently requires a bachelor’s degree in nursing for licensure, the memo notes.

The memo outlines the evidence needed to establish that a position qualifies as a specialty occupation under the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Among other things, documentation submitted by petitioners often includes the nature of the petitioner’s business; industry practices; a detailed description of the duties to be performed; advanced certification requirements; ANCC “Magnet Recognized” status; clinical experience requirements; training in the specialty requirements; and wage rate relative to others within the occupation.

USCIS recognizes the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) as an authoritative source on duties and educational requirements. However, the memo notes that it is not always determinative and other authoritative and/or persuasive sources provided by the petitioner will also be considered.

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