For more than two years USCIS has been inconsistent in processing I-140 permanent residence applications in the Eb-2 category for Physical Therapists. The Eb-2 classification is for “members of the professions with advanced degrees””. An advanced degree is defined as a Master’s degree or equivalent; a bachelor’s and five years of experience is comparable to an advanced degree. The problem has not been with petitions that require a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience; rather, the problem has been with petitions that require a Master’s degree when the person has the “equivalent”” of a Master’s degree.
Although the diploma of a beneficiary may state on its face “Bachelor of Science Degree”, USCIS policy and cases have historically held that the face of the diploma is not be the controlling factor. Instead, the content of the education – the courses and number of hours taken in a program – is the relevant factor. For example, in a 2009 case, the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) held that a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (“MBBS”) from a university in Pakistan could constitute an advanced degree. The MBBS was a degree conferred after five years of college-level education. Similarly, in the same year the AAO held that a Bachelor of Dentistry, also a five year program, could be considered an advanced degree. In that case, the AAO relied on the educational evaluations submitted to USCIS in the I-140 petition.
USCIS confirmed in a 2009 memorandum that if a foreign medical graduate with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery could demonstrate that he has an advanced degree through a credential evaluation, USCIS should determine that it is an advanced degree for EB2 purposes.
Yet in the context of physical therapists applying for Eb-2 classification, the USCIS has disregarded reputable credential evaluations and relied solely on the EDGE database to conclude that a beneficiary’s education is not equivalent to a US Master’s degree. Faced with two advisory opinions which provide conflicting results, the USCIS defers to the EDGE database. There are numerous credibility factors which would lead a reasonable tribunal to determine that FCCPT is a more authoritative source.
First, the FCCPT has been selected by Congress as authoritative on the education and credentials of foreign trained physical therapists and has been selected as only one of two private agencies authorized to award Sec. 343, Foreign Healthcare Worker Certifications. The EDGE database has never been approved by Congress for such action.
Second, FCCPT has been recognized by all 50 states to provide evaluation services of physical therapists for purposes of state licensing. The EDGE database has never been so recognized.
Third, FCCPT specializes in the review and analysis of physical therapy education. The EDGE database is a general database which covers thousands of academic education programs and cannot be reasonably expected to be an expert compared to an organization which specializes in physical therapy education.
Fourth, FCCPT provides a breakdown of the beneficiary’s courses and credit hours and compares those to US Physical Therapy programs to reach its conclusion. The EDGE database simply makes a conclusory statement that it does not believe that a Philippine Bachelor’s degree is equivalent to a US Master’s degree. There is absolutely no analysis with respect to credit hours, type of courses or any other in depth inquiry.
Fifth, the FCCPT evaluation considers the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) standards. This accreditation agency sets the standards for PT education in the US and the FCCPT evaluation complies with CAPTE standards in arriving at the conclusion that the Phillipino Bachelor’s degree program which the beneficiary completed meets CAPTE standards and is equivalent to a US Master’s degree. The EDGE database does not even attempt to make such a claim.
Although the EDGE database may be helpful in a general sense and may provide basic guidance, it should be considered a source such as Wikipedia or The World Book Encyclopedia. It’s nice for general information but when one wants specialized information such as would be required in this analysis, it is critical to go to an expert. There is no greater expert on foreign education credentials than FCCPT. Congress, USCIS Headquarters, all fifty (50) US states, and CAPTE unanimously endorses the utilization of FCCPT for evaluating the foreign education of physical therapists. To reject the opinion of FCCPT and accept the opinion of the EDGE database is to ignore the facts.
It’s imperative for the USCIS to reject the EDGE database and accept the opinion of the FCCPT. However, until that happens employers should expect inconsistency in Eb-2 cases for physical therapists.