Graduates of US master’s degree programs from institutions that are unaccredited or for-profit may now have an additional hurdle in filing H-1B petitions. Generally speaking, there is a separate quota of 20,000 H-1B visas available for graduates of US master’s degree programs. This is advantageous for US master’s degree graduates; if there is an H-1B visa lottery as there was last year, they will have two bites at the apple. That is, they would be included in the US master’s degree lottery, and if they are not selected there, they would be part of the “regular” lottery as well.
However, USCIS has started looking more carefully at the filings to make sure that the petitions counted against the US master’s degree cap actually qualify. The statute that allows for the 20,000 slots for US master’s degree holders specifies that the US master’s degree must be earned from a US institution of higher education as defined in section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1956. This section defines an institution of higher education as one that a) is a public or other nonprofit institution and b) is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association (or meets certain other accreditation requirements). There are other elements of the definition as well. However, the key takeaway here is that if you have earned a US master’s degree from an institution that is not accredited or that is for-profit, you may not be eligible to be counted against the US master’s degree cap.
A graduate of a US master’s program that does not meet the statutory requirements may still file an H-1B petition, but should be careful as to which quota the petition is counted against. Careful planning on the front end can prevent an unhappy surprise down the road. For more information on current trends in H-1B visa processing, please see this post.