What are SOC Codes?
The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) is used by U.S. federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories in order to facilitate job classification, including for immigrant and nonimmigrant workers applying for employment-based visas or switching jobs.
The SOC classifies all jobs in the United States, including public, private, and military jobs, to facilitate comparability across occupational data. There are 867 detailed occupations all workers can be classified into, based upon the occupational definition of workers’ jobs. Detailed occupations are combined into 459 broad occupations, 98 minor groups, and 23 major groups to facilitate classification. And detailed occupations in the SOC that have similar job duties, skills, education, or training are grouped together.
When are SOC Codes Used for Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Workers?
Permanent Employment Certification “PERM,” ETA Form 9089
Employers who wish to hire non-U.S. citizens for permanent work under an immigrant employment visa (EB visa) must obtain approval from the Department of Labor using ETA Form 9089. Before the immigrant visa application is complete, the employer must receive a Prevailing Wage Determination (PWD) from the State Workforce Agency (SWA) responsible for the state in which the work will be performed. The SWA will provide the SOC code for the visa applicant’s job offer, which is then used by the employer on ETA Form 9089.
Labor Condition Application for Nonimmigrant Workers, ETA Form 9035
Employers seeking to hire a nonimmigrant worker, such as H-1B, H-1B1, or E-3 visa applicants, must first file a labor condition application (LCA). On the LCA, the employer must provide the SOC code that pertains to the visa applicant’s job offer. The employer should use the SOC code that most clearly describes the work to be performed by the visa applicant. The SOC code can be determined using the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center Online Wage Library (“OWL”) developed via a grant by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Form ETA 9142B
Employers seeking temporary non-agricultural workers under the H-2B visa must file Form ETA 9142B, upon which the employer must provide the SOC code that pertains to the visa applicant’s job offer. The employer should use the SOC code that most clearly describes the work to be performed by the visa applicant. The SOC code can be determined using the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center Online Wage Library (“OWL”) developed via a grant by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Job Change During EB Visa Application
When an EB applicant changes his or her employment during the application process, the applicant must show that the new employment meets the requirements of the EB visa. To do so, the USCIS will rely on the Department of Labor’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC). However, the USCIS says it does more than draw numerical comparisons in the DOL’s system when determining whether or not jobs are the same or similar. Instead, the USCIS will look at several different factors, including the required skills, training, education, experience, licenses or certifications for the job; how the wages associated with each job compare; and the job duties of both jobs.
How are SOC Codes Determined?
SOC codes are determined and revised periodically using classification principles and coding guidelines. The most recent revision was completed in 2018. Occupations are classified based on work performed and, in some cases, on the skills, education, and/or training required to perform the work, but not job title. Each occupation is assigned to only one occupation category at the most detailed level of the classification.
For example, workers engaged in planning and the directing of resources are classified as management occupations in Major Group 11-000. Major Groups are then broken into minor groups, which are then divided into broad occupations, which are then divided into one or more detailed occupations.
To illustrate this, Major Group 29-000 is Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations, which includes the minor group 29-1000, Health Diagnosing or Treating Practitioners. Minor group 29-1000 includes the broad occupation 29-1020, Dentists, which includes the detailed occupation 29-1022, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.
The SOC was created by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and is periodically revised by OMB and the SOC Revision Policy Committee (SOCRPC), which works in conjunction with numerous federal agencies to conduct revisions based upon the above criteria.
How Have SOC Codes Changed?
When the SOC is revised, there may be numerous changes from the previous SOC. The 2018 SOC was revised from the 2010 SOC, and includes code changes, title changes, definition content changes, definition editing and clarification changes, and illustrative example changes. For example, in the 2018 SOC, detailed occupations such as Public Relations Managers, Fundraising Managers, Administrative Services Manager, and Facilities Managers all had code changes, title changes, definition content changes, and illustrative example changes from the 2010 SOC.
The 2018 SOC also shows a net gain of 27 detailed occupations and one minor group, with two fewer broad occupations, while the number of major groups did not change. Of the 867 occupations in the 2018 SOC, 382 remained completely unchanged from the 2010 SOC. Of the occupations that did change, 356 had at least a definition change, 131 had at least a title change, and 115 had at least a code change. For the definition changes, 254 out of the 356 changes were editorial revisions or clarifications that did not change occupational content. Thus, for about 88% of the detailed occupations in the 2010 SOC, no substantive changes occurred.
When the SOC is revised, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes what it refers to as a “crosswalk.” A crosswalk serves to identify changes between the previous SOC and the newly-revised SOC. Among the changes in the 2018, significant revisions and additions were made to information technology minor group 15-1200, Computer Occupations and healthcare major groups 29-0000, Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations, as well as 31-0000, Healthcare Support Occupations. Moreover, some detailed occupation moved from one major group in the 2010 SOC to a different major group in the 2018 SOC, and thus received new codes. For example, the 2010 SOC included Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians as a broad occupation, while the 2018 SOC made this a minor group in the major group Life, Physical and Social Sciences Occupations.
How Do New SOC Codes Impact Certain Visa Applications?
While revisions to the SOC are intended to adapt to changing occupational industries, the code changes in the revised SOC may confusion or delays for Permanent Employment Certifications filed before the 2018 revision, as well as for employers using the Foreign Labor Certification Center Online Wage Library (OWL), which has been slow to update the changes in the 2018 SOC.
Employers who filed a PERM before the 2018 revisions were published may have used old SOC codes for the visa applicant’s job offer. If the visa applicant now wishes to, for example, downgrade from an EB-2 visa to an EB-3, their new Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers will require the use SOC codes that may be different, and thus unmatching, from the SOC codes used in the previously filed PERM. If the employer uses the old or new code in the new I-140, they risk being issued a Request for Evidence (RFE) by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which can cause delays and require the employer to discover and explain the coding discrepancy.
On the other hand, employers seeking to temporarily employ an immigrant refer to OWL in order to determine the correct SOC code for the Labor Condition Application. However, OWL has been slow to reflect the 2018 changed SOC codes. OWL is an important tool for employers to determine prevailing wage information, and the discrepancy between 2010 and 2018 SOC codes can force the employer to explain the discrepancy if issued a RFE. This is particularly an issue for H-1B employers who need to show the employment position is a specialty occupation despite using an out-of-date code from OWL. This requires the employer to prove the position is in-fact a speciality occupation by referring to archived occupational reports from the Department of Labor that show the 2010 SOC code on OWL is for a specialty occupation.