Quota Season Opens April 1, 2014 – Do I qualify for the Master’s Cap?

Feb 11, 2014

On Tuesday April 1, 2014, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will open its doors and start accepting H-1B cap petitions for FY 2015. Every year, the regulations allow for a total of 85,000 brand new H-1B visas for cap subject applicants. Of these 85,000 available visa numbers, 20,000 visas are reserved for applicants who have earned a Master’s degree from a U.S. institution of higher education.  

The regulations state that the H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004, will treat as exempt from the H-1B cap for any fiscal year the first 20,000 H-1B petitions reflecting alien beneficiaries who have earned a master’s or higher degree from a United States institution of higher education. Does this mean that every college and/or university graduates qualify? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

The regulations at 20 U.S.C. 1001 (a) clearly delineate which institutions qualify for the Master’s cap. In general terms, USCIS requires that the qualifying institution be accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association and be either a public institution or a private non-profit institution. Why is this important? Over the past year or so, adjudicating officers at both the Vermont and California Service Centers have started to closely examine and scrutinize education credentials of applicants who have been previously approved under the U.S. Master’s Cap. This issue is raised and addressed when the current petition in front of the officer is either an extension or a transfer. So, if it turns out that U.S. Master’s degree was earned from a private, for-profit institution such as Stratford University, USCIS will issue a denial of the current petition and a revocation of the quota Master’s cap petition.

Where does this leave the H-1B applicant? The revocation of the H-1B quota petition leaves the applicant with very minimal options and in all cases subject to the cap in the next fiscal year. The denial of the extension or transfer application may leave the applicant without status in the United States. In instances such as this, the only option available to the applicant is leave the United States and consular process on a new H-1B or other non-immigrant status. So, don’t be so quick to check off the Master’s box on this year’s quota application. One small question on the application form can change the course of someone’s life. It is also important for F-1 students to thoroughly research the U.S. institutions where they want to pursue their education degrees. Most F-1 students come to the United States with hopes of transferring to an H-1B visa and choosing the wrong school will waste their time and money. Therefore, please consult a knowledgeable professional when making such decisions.