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Bloggings On PERM Labor Certification

by Joel Stewart

Editor's note: Here are the latest entries from Joel Stewart's blog.

April 06, 2009

Job Zone Levels, SVP Levels, Wage Levels, and Preference Categories

These are four different concepts that interact among themselves.

Job Zone Levels are used on the O*Net to categorize jobs according to complexity. There are five job zone levels, from level one (jobs requiring little or no training) to level five (jobs requiring higher education, training and experience). Several weeks ago I wrote about Job Zone Level Five which has slightly more than 100 occupations described on the O*Net, and I identified eight positions that could be used by businesses:

(1) 25-9011.00 - Audio-Visual Collections Specialists

(2) 11-1011.00 - Chief Executives

(3) 19-3011.00 - Economists

(4) 15-1011.00 - Computer and Information Scientists, Research

(5) 11-9041.00 - Engineering Managers

(6) 15-2031.00 - Operations Research Analysts

(7) 15-2041.00 - Statisticians

(8) 11-3031.01 - Treasurers and Controllers

Job Zone Level Four contains a large number of professional positions, but, according to DOL, they are less complex. 

Each job zone level is associated with an SVP range. The SVP is the specific vocational preparation training time permitted for an occupation. "Permitted" means that the DOL has determined the SVP for each occupation (normal requirements in the USA), and employers may not set higher requirements than those described by the SVP, without documentation of business necessity.

The SVP, however, was turned upside down by the PERM Rule. My colleague Roy Watson, a seasoned practitioner, wrote about this and stated the problem succinctly:

"The original DOT had over 11,000 job descriptions. O*Net was created because it was felt that searching the DOT was too "cumbersome" and time consuming....and the 11,000 jobs were squeezed into a little over 1,000!"

The result was that the SVP was downgraded for many jobs. Those which previously had an SVP of 8 (allowing higher education plus experience as minimum requirements) were downgraded to SVP 7 (allowing only four years of education, experience or training). In practical terms, this means that except for the eight positions I described above, businesses would have to offer positions with lower minimum requirements. For example, a position inJob Zone Level Four may only require a Master's Degree (MA is equal to 4 years SVP) or a Bachelor's (BA or BS is equal to 2 years SVP) plus two years experience.

SVP for skilled through highly professional positions are the following:

SVP 6    over 1 year up to and including 2 years

SVP 7    over 2 years up to and including 4 years

SVP 8    over four years up to and including 10 years

SVP 9    over 10 years

For educational levels, an AA with a specific course study (like nursing) amounts to two years of SVP.

A Baccalaureate degree (BA or BS) also amounts to two years of SVP (on the theory that the first two years are general education).

A Master's Degree is 4 years of SVP.

A Doctorate degree is 7 years of SVP (two for Baccalaureate, two for Master's, and 3 for PhD).

Under the current DHS preference category system, there are five Preference Categories, but most professional positions fall into the 1st or 2nd preference. The latter is available for jobs requiring a Master's Degree or a Bachelor's plus Five Years of Progressive Experience. Some jobs even require higher than a Master's Degree and many years experience. Accordingly, Job Zone Level Four is no longer appropriate for these jobs, since it does not permit a Master's plus years of experience, or a Bachelor's plus Five. 

Prevailing Wage Determinations are divided into four levels and there are five steps to obtain the proper determination, including experience, education, special skills, and supervisory duties. Lamentably, some employers confuse the PW Determination with the SVP/Job Zone Level analysis. For example, if the SWA states that the Prevailing Wage Level is "Four," this does not mean that the Job Zone Level is "Four." On the contrary, a Job requiring little or no experience (Job Zone Level 1)  could have a Prevailing Wage Level Four due to additional skills and job functions. Remember, too, that notwithstanding the five steps to obtain wage determination, the DOL may also use a "totality of the circumstances" analysis involving job level criteria such as "entry level" to "Fully Competent."

In a typical case, an Occupation described on the O*Net, will have a Job Zone Level Four, with SVP 7 (two to four years of experience, education or training), a Prevailing Wage level of One or Two, and qualify for DHS Preference Level Two. As most jobs exceed the limit of two to four years of preparation time, the application for PERM will result in an audit.

A good way to understand all this is to print out the O*Net Report for "Market Research Analyst" 19-3021 and "Economist" 19-3011. The reports include the job duties, tasks, job zone levels, and wage trends. Market Research Analyst is Job Zone 4 and can justify a Master's Degree (four years SVP) but no experience. Economist is Job Zone 5 and can justify a Master's Degree plus experience or Baccalaureate plus five years experience. The DHS Second Preference category can be used if the requirements are a Master's Degree or a Bachelor's plus Five Years Progressive Experience. The Prevailing Wage for either of the above may be anywhere from 1-5 depending on the specific requirements of the job.

And so, there you have it. Job Zone Levels, SVP Levels, Preference Categories and Prevailing Wage Levels are distinct concepts. Employers and their attorneys have to consider how these concepts may be compatible with each other in a specific PERM application.