Within the universe of employment-based immigrant visas, the vast majority of visa classifications require a certain level of qualifying post-secondary education. For many immigrants that level of qualifying post-secondary education was obtained outside the United States. While USCIS will allow the use of a foreign degree, it is important to consider whether USCIS will accept that foreign degree as the U.S. academic equivalent degree when seeking to utilize that foreign degree to qualify for certain employment-based immigrant visa categories.
The two most heavily utilized employment-based immigrant visa categories are EB-2 (Members of the Professions Holding Advanced Degrees) and EB-3 (Skilled Workers). To qualify as an EB-2 Member of the Professions Holding an Advanced Degree, an individual must show they have either a 1) Master’s degree or 2) a Bachelor’s degree and five years of progressive work experience. Under EB-2 classification, USCIS considers a Bachelor’s Degree plus five years of experience as equivalent to a Master’s degree in and of itself. To qualify as an EB-3 Skilled Worker, an individual must show they have either 1) a Bachelor’s degree or 2) two years of work experience.
However, when utilizing a foreign degree, approval under EB-2 or EB-3 categories is not as straight forward as showing USCIS that the individual possesses a foreign Masters or Bachelor’s degree. In certain instances, foreign degrees do not meet the USCIS requirements of an acceptable degree. Typically, this distinction comes down to the number of years required to obtain that foreign degree.
When evaluating foreign education credentials, USCIS applies the American “norm” for post-secondary education to those foreign degrees. In the US, it is the norm to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in four (4) years and a Master’s degree in two (2) years (for an aggregate total of six years of study). Therefore, for USCIS to consider a foreign degree as the US academic equivalent of a Bachelor or Master’s degree, it is critical to respect the number of years it took to obtain that foreign degree. Typically, USCIS will require a foreign Bachelor’s degree require four years of study to be the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree. Similarly, for USCIS to consider a foreign degree as a Master’s degree they will want to see that degree required two years of study (thereby an aggregate six years of study). We can call this the “four/six” rule.
For those obtaining foreign degrees in Western Europe and certain Commonwealth nations (United Kingdom, Australia), USCIS recognizes those education systems are more “advanced” than the American counterpart. That said, a degree from Western Europe and certain Commonwealth nations does not necessarily need to meet the above-described arithmetic. For instance, it is common for USCIS to accept a three-year Bachelors or a one-year Masters from the United Kingdom as a direct US academic equivalent. The understanding therein is that the United Kingdom programs are more rigorous and intensive than their American counterpart.
However, for those obtaining their degrees elsewhere (particularly India), USCIS strictly applies the four/six year “rule” to those foreign degrees. For a number of foreign institutions of higher education, Bachelor’s degrees are granted after three years of study. Generally, if an individual possesses a foreign three-year Bachelor’s degree, it is highly unlikely that USCIS will accept that as the U.S. academic equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree.
Further, there are a number of foreign institutions of higher education offering one-year Master’s degrees. If an individual possesses a foreign one-year Master’s degree, it is highly unlikely that USCIS will accept that as the U.S. academic equivalent of a Master’s degree.
Finally, we often times see individuals with a foreign three-year Bachelor’s degree and a foreign two-year Master’s degree (3+2). While they do possess a two-year Master’s degree, it is again highly unlikely that USCIS will accept that as the U.S. academic equivalent of a Master’s degree. Why is that? Let’s recall the four/six rule. USCIS wants to see four years of study for a Bachelor’s and six years of aggregate study for a Master’s—the five years of aggregate study inherent in the a three-year Bachelor’s degree and a two-year Master’s degree simply doesn’t meet the math required. However, if a person possesses a foreign three-year Bachelor’s degree and a foreign three-year Master’s degree (3+3), USCIS will very likely accept that education as the US academic equivalent of a Master’s degree.
If you are seeking to utilize foreign education to qualify you for an immigrant visa, it is imperative to understand what your foreign education is and is not acceptable for. When filing your visa petition, USCIS will require a professional evaluation of your foreign education. When considering foreign degree equivalency, historically USCIS has followed the opinions and recommendations of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers’ Electronic Database for Global Education (AACRAO EDGE). Most if not all reputable degree evaluation services will consult and cite that database in their evaluations.
By Ryan A. Wilck, Partner and Attorney at Law
Ryan Wilck is an attorney at Reddy & Neumann P.C. assisting helping clients and their employees through the phases of the Green Card process. “Concilio et labore” is not only the motto of Ryan’s favorite sports club but is also his life’s motto; all things come through wisdom and effort. Ryan is passionate about gaining the trust of his clients utilizing a relentless and detail-oriented work ethic to understand their specific goals and concerns, hoping to instill a sense of confidence and stability. Whatever your immigration problem, he and his team will find a solution, through wisdom and effort.