By Emily Neumann & Krystal Alanis, Attorneys at Reddy & Neumann, P.C.
Obtaining a master’s degree from a U.S. college or university is a great idea for those looking to increase career opportunities and an F-1 student visa is the usual path for citizens of other countries to study here. Before you can apply for a student visa to attend school in the United States, you must first apply to and be accepted by a SEVP approved school. But, did you know that even unaccredited schools can be SEVP approved? Before you apply to a school, find out whether it is accredited. If it is not, you may not be able to rely on your U.S. master’s degree in future immigration applications.
The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been denying H-1B visa applications filed under the Advanced Degree Exemption, often referred to as the Master’s Cap, for individuals who attended an unaccredited master’s program. The same is true for I-140 Immigrant Petitions (2nd step of employment based green card process) filed under the EB-2 preference category for a position requiring an advanced degree. The problem stems from the fact that the non-qualifying schools are SEVP certified schools and are therefore authorized to enroll international students. Unfortunately, it is often not until a Petition is denied that the individual becomes aware of the issue. At this point, the individual who spent so much time and effort to obtain a U.S. degree is left wondering why an SEVP certified school was not enough to obtain an H1B or I-140 approval.
If you are considering pursuing a higher education in the U.S., check to verify whether or not the school you are considering is regionally accredited. All you have to do is check one of these websites based on the state in which the school is located:
1. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools: http://www.middlestates.org/
Accreditation of colleges in the Middle States region (Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico)
2. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges: http://www.neasc.org/
Accreditation of colleges in the New England region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont)
3. The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools: http://www.ncahlc.org/
Accreditation of colleges in the North Central region (Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming)
4. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities: http://www.nwccu.org/
Accreditation of colleges in the North West region (Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington)
5. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools: http://www.sacs.org/
Accreditation of colleges in the Southern region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia)
6. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges: http://www.wascweb.org/
Accreditation of colleges in the western region (California, Hawaii, please see website for complete list)
As USCIS attempts to strictly adhere to statutory and regulatory requirements, we will continue to see denials of H1B and I-140 applications where accreditation issues come to light. Therefore, when in doubt, it is always best to check if the U.S. school you are planning to attend in order to pursue an advanced degree is one that is regionally accredited. Obtaining a degree from an unaccredited school can eventually come back to haunt you.
Emily Neumann has practiced immigration law in Texas since 2005, representing both employers and immigrants. Neumann writes a blog on immigration law (immigrationgirl.com) and shares updates on Twitter (@immigrationgirl) and her Facebook page to help her clients stay informed of the latest news. She is a partner in Reddy & Neumann, P.C. in Houston and Dallas.
Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is an immigration law firm in Houston, Texas. For over 15 years, our firm has successfully represented corporate clients across the United States in their efforts to bring foreign workers and business professionals to the United States. Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is highly experienced in working with employment-based visas, adjustment of status, green cards, and PERM labor certification. From filing, through approval, and on to appeal, we do everything possible to ensure that your company can bring the best and brightest in the world to the United States.