20 CFR § 655.737 - What are “exempt” H-1B nonimmigrants, and how does their employment affect the additional attestation obligations of H-1B-dependent employers and willful violator employers?
(a) An employer that is H-1B-dependent or a willful violator of the H-1B program requirements (as described in § 655.736) is subject to the attestation obligations regarding displacement of U.S. workers and recruitment of U.S. workers (as described in §§ 655.738 and 655.739, respectively) for all LCAs that are filed during the time period specified in § 655.736(g). However, these additional obligations do not apply to an LCA filed by such an employer if the LCA is used only for the employment of “exempt” H-1B nonimmigrants (through petitions and/or extensions of status) as described in this section.
(b) What is the test or standard for determining an H-1B nonimmigrant's “exempt” status? An H-1B nonimmigrant is “exempt” for purposes of this section if the nonimmigrant meets either of the two following criteria:
(1) Receives wages (including cash bonuses and similar compensation) at an annual rate equal to at least $60,000; or
(2) Has attained a master's or higher degree (or its equivalent) in a specialty related to the intended employment.
(c) How is the $60,000 annual wage to be determined? The H-1B nonimmigrant can be considered to be an “exempt” worker, for purposes of this section, if the nonimmigrant actually receives hourly wages or annual salary totaling at least $60,000 in the calendar year. The standards applicable to the employer's satisfaction of the required wage obligation are applicable to the determination of whether the $60,000 wages or salary are received (see § 655.731(c)(2) and (3)). Thus, employer contributions or costs for benefits such as health insurance, life insurance, and pension plans cannot be counted toward this $60,000. The compensation to be counted or credited for these purposes could include cash bonuses and similar payments, provided that such compensation is paid to the worker “cash in hand, free and clear, when due” (§ 655.731(c)(1)), meaning that the compensation has readily determinable market value, is readily convertible to cash tender, and is actually received by the employee when due (which must be within the year for which the employer seeks to count or credit the compensation toward the employee's $60,000 earnings to qualify for exempt status). Cash bonuses and similar compensation can be counted or credited toward the $60,000 for “exempt” status only if payment is assured (i.e., if the payment is contingent or conditional on some event such as the employer's annual profits, the employer must guarantee payment even if the contingency is not met). The full $60,000 annual wages or salary must be received by the employee in order for the employee to have “exempt” status. The wages or salary required for “exempt” status cannot be decreased or pro rated based on the employee's part-time work schedule; an H-1B nonimmigrant working part-time, whose actual annual compensation is less than $60,000, would not qualify as exempt on the basis of wages, even if the worker's earnings, if projected to a full-time work schedule, would theoretically exceed $60,000 in a year. Where an employee works for less than a full year, the employee must receive at least the appropriate pro rata share of the $60,000 in order to be “exempt” (e.g., an employee who resigns after three months must be paid at least $15,000). In the event of an investigation pursuant to subpart I of this part, the Administrator will determine whether the employee has received the required $60,000 per year, using the employee's anniversary date to determine the one-year period; for an employee who had worked for less than a full year (either at the beginning of employment, or after his/her last anniversary date), the determination as to the $60,000 annual wages will be on a pro rata basis (i.e., whether the employee had been paid at a rate of $60,000 per year (or $5,000 per month) including any unpaid, guaranteed bonuses or similar compensation).
(d) How is the “master's or higher degree (or its equivalent) in a specialty related to the intended employment” to be determined? (1) “Master's or higher degree (or its equivalent),” for purposes of this section means a foreign academic degree from an institution which is accredited or recognized under the law of the country where the degree was obtained, and which is equivalent to a master's or higher degree issued by a U.S. academic institution. The equivalence to a U.S. academic degree cannot be established through experience or through demonstration of expertise in the academic specialty (i.e., no “time equivalency” or “performance equivalency” will be recognized as substituting for a degree issued by an academic institution). The DHS and the Department will consult appropriate sources of expertise in making the determination of equivalency between foreign and U.S. academic degrees. Upon the request of the DHS or the Department, the employer shall provide evidence to establish that the H-1B nonimmigrant has received the degree, that the degree was earned in the asserted field of study, including an academic transcript of courses, and that the institution from which the degree was obtained was accredited or recognized.
(2) “Specialty related to the intended employment,” for purposes of this section, means that the academic degree is in a specialty which is generally accepted in the industry or occupation as an appropriate or necessary credential or skill for the person who undertakes the employment in question. A “specialty” which is not generally accepted as appropriate or necessary to the employment would not be considered to be sufficiently “related' to afford the H-1B nonimmigrant status as an “exempt H-1B nonimmigrant.”
(e) When and how is the determination of the H-1B nonimmigrant's “exempt” status to be made? An employer that is H-1B-dependent or a willful violator (as described in § 655.736) may designate on the LCA that the LCA will be used only to support H-1B petition(s) and/or request(s) for extension of status for “exempt” H-1B nonimmigrants.
(1) If the employer makes the designation of “exempt” H-1B nonimmigrant(s) on the LCA, then the DHS - as part of the adjudication of the H-1B petition or request for extension of status - will determine the worker's “exempt” status, since an H-1B petition must be supported by an LCA consistent with the petition (i.e., occupation, area of intended employment, exempt status). The employer shall maintain, in the public access file maintained in accordance with § 755.760, a list of the H-1B nonimmigrant(s) whose petition(s) and/or request(s) are supported by LCA(s) which the employer has attested will be used only for exempt H-1B nonimmigrants. In the event of an investigation under subpart I of this part, the Administrator will give conclusive effect to an DHS determination of “exempt” status based on the nonimmigrant's educational attainments (i.e., master's or higher degree (or its equivalent) in a specialty related to the intended employment) unless the determination was based on false information. If the DHS determination of “exempt” status was based on the assertion that the nonimmigrant would receive wages (including cash bonuses and similar compensation) at an annual rate equal to at least $60,000, the employer shall provide evidence to show that such wages actually were received by the nonimmigrant (consistent with paragraph (c) of this section and the regulatory standards for satisfaction or payment of the required wages as described in § 655.731(c)(3)).
(2) If the employer makes the designation of “exempt” H-1B nonimmigrants on the LCA, but is found in an enforcement action under subpart I of this part to have used the LCA to employ nonimmigrants who are, in fact, not exempt, then the employer will be subject to a finding that it failed to comply with the nondisplacement and recruitment obligations (as described in §§ 655.738 and 655.739, respectively) and may be assessed appropriate penalties and remedies.
(3) If the employer does not make the designation of “exempt” H-1B nonimmigrants on the LCA, then the employer has waived the option of not being subject to the additional LCA attestation obligations on the basis of employing only exempt H-1B nonimmigrants under the LCA. In the event of an investigation under subpart I of this part, the Administrator will not consider the question of the nonimmigrant(s)'s “exempt” status in determining whether an H-1B-dependent employer or willful violator employer has complied with such additional LCA attestation obligations.