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H-1B Visas: 5 Big Trends In 2014

What should CIOs and hiring managers prepare for in the 2014 H-1B application process? Experts say beware new twists.

4. Know that "specialty occupation" is no longer a catch-all
Rose noted that "specialty occupation" -- the term USCIS uses to describe jobs eligible for H-1B visas -- was in the past loosely defined to include a broad bucket of professional capacities requiring a bachelor's degree. The minimum degree requirement remains, but the definition of what constitutes a "specialty occupation" has grown narrower.

"It's more restrictive now," Rose said. "They're being much tighter in their interpretation of what qualifies as a specialty occupation."

It's not the easiest maze to navigate; details as seemingly straightforward as job titles are subject to changing interpretations, so don't take them for granted.

"With respect to IT, probably safe positions would be 'software engineer' or 'software developer,' " Rose said. "But they're even coming down hard on positions like 'programmer,' which generally is interchangeable [with software engineer]. The titles that you use could be problematic."

Another long-held IT title, "computer systems analyst" (or its counterpart "systems analyst"), has likewise fallen out of favor on H-1B applications. "You used to be able to get H-1Bs pretty easily for that; now they're kind of questioning whether that is a specialty occupation."

5. Ensure your potential hires have the right education
A related shift in H-1B screening focuses on the candidate's education. While the visa has always required a bachelor's degree or higher, the degree field is increasingly critical for a successful petition. In 2014, applicants with a degree that is unrelated or only tangentially related to the job will face longer odds in the process.

"You have to have a very tight nexus between your major and the position," Rose said. Before, a candidate with, say, a mechanical or aeronautical engineering degree who also had some software programming skills would likely qualify as a software engineer. "Now, they're getting very, very restrictive on that. If you don't have a degree in computer science, you could have some issues getting an H-1B."

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