H-1B Visa: Experience Verification Letters to Show “Progressive” Experience in the Specialty

The H-1B visa is for foreign workers who hold “specialty” occupations.  A specialty occupation is one which:

“requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge to fully perform the occupation and which requires the attainment of the equivalent of an American bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty as a minimum for entry into the United States.”

It is generally straightforward for our office to obtain an “education evaluation” from a credentials evaluation service to show that a four-year degree from an accredited foreign college or university is equivalent to a U.S. Bachelor’s Degree.  However, we must obtain “education and experience evaluations” in several circumstances:

-The individual has a four-year degree from a foreign college or university, but the degree is not in the same field as the “specialty.”  For example, the individual has a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting, and 10 years of experience in software engineering, and seeks to obtain an H-1B visa for a position as a Software Engineer.  In this situation, we would seek to obtain an education and experience evaluation stating that the individual has enough work experience in software engineering (using the USCIS’ rule of three years of experience counting as one year of college or university education), in addition to the accounting degree, to have the “equivalent” of a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science/Computer Engineering.  In most cases, the individual must have the Bachelor’s Degree in the unrelated field plus at least 3-6 years of experience in the specialty to have the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree in the specialty occupation.

-The individual has some college education or related coursework, but never obtained a degree.  In this situation, we must obtain copies of all transcripts or certificates obtained as well as proof of work experience in the specialty occupation and attempt to obtain an “education and experience evaluation” as described above using the three-for-one rule.  In such a circumstance, if the individual has three years of relevant completed schooling, we would seek to demonstrate at least three years of relevant work experience to get a proper opinion.

-The individual has no college education, but has many years of experience.  In this situation, we must obtain proof of work experience in the specialty occupation and attempt to obtain an experience evaluation as described above using the three-for-one rule.  The individual in this case must have at least 12 years of experience in the specialty to obtain the necessary evaluation.  In such cases, it is likely that the evaluation will require additional scrutiny making the experience verification letters vitally important.

-The individual has a “bachelor’s” diploma, but it’s for less than four years of post-secondary academic study.  For example, many countries, including Canada and India, issue technical (non-academic) school degrees and/or three post-secondary programs.

In all of the situations described above, the individual must also document that his or her “expertise” has been recognized through highly specialized or progressively responsible experience in the specialty occupation.  The USCIS states:

“It must be clearly demonstrated that the alien’s training and/or work experience included the theoretical and practical application of specialized knowledge required by the specialty occupation; that the alien’s experience was gained while working with peers, supervisors, or subordinates who have a degree or its equivalent in the specialty occupation; and that the alien has recognition of expertise in the specialty occupation.

The standard form of documentation of work experience is a letter from a former employer, academic advisor, or professor, stating the job title, hours worked per week, dates of employment, and brief description of duties.  This letter is not a letter of reference or recommendation.  The letters must show that the person’s experience has been progressively more responsible and demonstrates expertise in the field, either during his or her employment at a single company, or at successive employers.  It is important to include all relevant areas of experience and expertise that the person actually acquired in that job or while employed as a student.  The letter should be signed by a supervisor, human resources representative, company official, academic advisor or professor on company letterhead.

“Progressive” experience has not been clearly defined by USCIS, but at a minimum, the experience letters must show that the person “progressed” over time during their employment, taking on more responsibility in terms of job duties or supervision.  This progression might be shown through a promotion at the same company where the person advanced into a position that required more complex or technical skills or in which s/he moved from a non-supervisory role into a supervisory role.

Sample:

To Whom It May Concern:
John James was employed full-time (40 hours per week) as a Software Developer at ABC Company in San Francisco, California from January 1996 until July 1998.  He worked as part of a team of software engineers developing software applications for supply chain management.  Initially hired as a member of our development team, John was promoted to project leader in 1997, and led teams of software engineers and programmers in developing, designing and testing new software applications for ABC.  John used C++, Java and HTML, and worked in a Windows 95/98/NT environment.
Sally Smith
Human Resources, ABC Company

Progressive experience can also be shown by letters from different employers, if the letters clearly show that the person’s roles at various companies increased in responsibility or complexity over time.

Sample of “progressive” experience at different companies:

LETTER #1:  From January 1990 until April 1992, Mr. John James was employed full-time (40 hours per week) as a junior software engineer (level I) with ABC Company.  In this role, he created C and C++ code as part of a team of professional engineers developing computer games for our company.
LETTER #2:  Mr. John James was employed part-time (30 hours per week) as a software consultant from May 1992 until July 1994 with Acme Computer Consultants.  Mr. James independently developed software solutions for various clients, working independently at client sites with other software engineers and developers.  Mr. James also prepared technical specifications for applications, and produced documentation of his development efforts.
LETTER #3:  From August 1994 until October 1996, Mr. James was employed full-time (45 hours per week) as a Manager, Software Development at XYZ Software.  Mr. James was responsible for the architecture and design of XYZ’s eCommerce applications.  He managed and led a team of 8-10 software developers and engineers, produced production milestones, and was responsible from concept to production of each software release.

If the previous employer no longer exists, is unwilling to provide a letter confirming employment, or if the experience letter author is no longer with that employer or academic institution, the letter should be written on the author’s current company letterhead and should include a statement of the author’s current title and that he or she supervised or taught the person during the period in question.

Sample:

To Whom It May Concern:
I was employed as a Project Leader by ABC Company from April 1993 until August 1999, when I left ABC to join Acme Software.  I was John’s immediate supervisor, and can attest that he was employed full-time (35 hours per week) as a software developer at ABC.  His duties at ABC included creating C and C++ code as part of an engineering team developing computer games for our company.  I can also attest that ABC Company went out of business in January 2000, and no longer exists.
David Doe
Director of Engineering, Acme Software Company

Please obtain the letters as soon as possible, and provide us with photocopies of the signed letters (clear fax or scan is fine). Please do not send us original letters.

In addition, to show “expertise,” it is helpful to submit proof of the person’s memberships in foreign or U.S. associations in the specialty and any published materials by or about the person in professional publications, books, or major newspapers.

Once we have received the employment verification letters to document the necessary number of years of employment, we will attempt to obtain the education and experience evaluation.

** This memo is provided for informational and discussion purposes only.  It does not act as a substitute for direct legal contact on an individual basis **