On May 31, 2017, USCIS released a memo clarifying that to be eligible for an H-1B cap exemption based on a Master’s Degree, the school from where the beneficiary obtained their degree has to have been a U.S. “institution of higher education” when the degree was earned. The policy memo cites to Matter of A-T- Inc., an “adopted decision,” meaning the decision is binding policy guidance for all USCIS personnel. As you probably know, there are only 65,000 H-1B visas available under the cap each year, with an additional 20,000 for people who have earned a master's degree or higher in the U.S. In their decision, the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) stated, “[U]nder our interpretation, an individual who earns a degree from a (pre-)accredited institution may continue to qualify for the Master’s Cap exemption even if the institution later closes or loses its (pre-)accreditation status.” This will be an important memo to keep in mind as USCIS has, in some instances, gone back and reviewed a beneficiary’s initial H1B petition – and which cap they were counted under – while adjudicating a current extension. Even when the beneficiary has been in the U.S. for over 5 years.
The AAO, one of the Courts of Appeals in the immigration system, recently approved an EB2 I-140 for an individual with a full MS degree that had been attained following a 3 yr. Bachelor's program. This is a major victory as the USCIS Service Center (particularly the Nebraska Service Center) had been issuing denials in such cases and had in fact, created their own policy, commonly referred to as the "6 year rule", requiring that an individual have 6 years of education to gain EB2 approval when using the Masters degree standard. In the AAO decision, the Court ruled that if a credible education evaluator evaluates the Masters degree as the equivalent of a US Masters degree that the preceding education is not relevant. We praise the AAO for its decision striking down yet another, in a long line of Service Center policies that have no basis in any statute or regulation but, are simply overreaching examples of a bureaucracy run amok. It is not believed that there will be in effect on EB2 cases where the basis of the labor certification is a Bachelor's plus 5 years of experience and the individual holds a 3 year bachelor's degree. It should also be noted that the Service Centers routinely choose not to follow AAO decisions and your individual case may need to be litigated in order to achieve the desired result.