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New immigration memo seeks to clarify H-1B eligibility for computer programmers

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In a memo released last week, United States immigration officials moved to clarify the process for vetting H-1B visas for computer programmers.

First spotted by Axios, a US Citizenship and Immigration Services memo posted online advises immigration officials to no longer follow an “obsolete” memo from 2000, which provided guidance on how to vet requests for H-1B visas, a type of visa for high-skilled workers that’s popular in the tech industry.

H1-B visas are currently processed by a number of centers in locations across the country. Unlike the other processing centers, the Nebraska processing center — which began processing H1-B visas last year — had conflicting regulations, leading USCIS to post the update. A USCIS spokesperson told The Verge there is no evidence any visas were processed under more lax guidelines.

The recently published memo, which brings the Nebraska processing center in line with other centers nationwide, focuses on the requirements for “specialty occupations.” An H-1B speciality occupation position requires at minimum a US bachelor’s degree in the designated specialty, the memo says. But, according to the guidance, some requested visa positions may not be meeting those requirements, and instead officials have generally considered programming a specialty occupation by default.

According to the memo, “the fact that a person may be employed as a computer programmer and 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 specifically says that “an entry-level computer programmer position would not generally qualify as a position in a specialty occupation.”

The memo also reminds officials to consider the wage level of a position in whether it qualifies as sufficiently complex for a visa. (The H-1B program has sometimes been criticized for overreaching to include lower-wage workers in the industry.)

In another statement put out today, immigration officials said they would also begin “targeted site visits” of worksites to “determine whether H-1B dependent employers are evading their obligation to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers.”

Meanwhile, today the US began accepting requests for H-1B visas for fiscal year 2018.

Correction, 5:31 PM ET: Includes comment from USCIS spokesperson and clarification that the Immigration Services memo was issued to bring the Nebraska processing center in line with guidelines currently in effect at other centers.