USCIS Finalizes Guidance on ‘Same or Similar’ Occupations and Job Portability
This article was prepared with the assistance of ABIL, the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, of which Laura Danielson is an active member.
On March 18, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) finalized guidance, effective March 21, on determining whether a new job is in the “same or similar” occupational classification with respect to job portability. The policy memorandum instructs USCIS employees on how to use the Department of Labor’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes and other evidence to determine if a new job is in the same or a similar occupational classification as the original job offer in an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-140) submitted to USCIS.
The memo notes that such adjudications “require individualized assessments that consider the totality of the circumstances and are based on a preponderance of the evidence presented.” The memo states that SOC codes “provide some measure of objectivity in such assessments and thus can help address uncertainty in the portability determination process.” Although the memo focuses on how to interpret and apply SOC codes, it points out that nothing in the memo “is intended to make SOC codes or their descriptions the only factor or a mandatory factor in portability determinations or to otherwise limit USCIS’ flexibility to consider other relevant evidence.”
Despite those assurances, some commenters expressed concerns that the guidance could have the practical effect of leading to a rigid application of SOC codes to “same or similar” determinations. The Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers (ABIL) referred to comments it submitted on February 29, 2016, regarding a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed rule issued on December 31, 2015, “Retention of EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 Immigrant Workers and Program Improvements Affecting High-Skilled Nonimmigrant Workers.” DHS proposed a new 8 CFR § 245.25 intended to “clarify and improve” policies and procedures related to the job portability provisions of § 106(c) of American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21). ABIL believes that the proposed 8 CFR § 245.25(c) takes an overly narrow interpretation of the term “same or similar” and results in an interpretation of INA § 204(j) (created by AC21) that is “more inflexible than current practice, lessens job flexibility, and takes much-needed discretion away from USCIS adjudicators.” See #2, “Job Portability Under AC21 for Certain Applicants for Adjustment of Status,” here. The memo is here.