Will Your Foreign Degree Count for U.S. Immigration?

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Are you an educated foreign national seeking to come to the United States based on an offer or prospect of employment with a U.S. company or organization? One of the first questions will be how your education overseas matches up to the U.S. educational system.

As you probably know, not every country in the world operates on the same academic degree and grade level system found in the United States. Yet, in order to successfully apply for many nonimmigrant (temporary) or else immigrant visas (green cards) to the United States, you will need to prove that you have attained a certain level of education, as defined in terms of U.S. educational degrees.

For example, within the second preference category of U.S. green cards, there is a subcategory for professionals holding advanced or postgraduate university degrees. An applicant who has merely obtained the equivalent of a baccalaureate cannot qualify in this category (unless he or she has at least five years of work experience).

Similarly, in order to apply for an H-1B nonimmigrant visa for temporary specialty workers coming to work in the U.S., the applicant must have a college degree or its equivalent in work experience. Without sufficient education to count as a U.S. baccalaureate degree, the applicant would have to rely on work experience alone – and very few people are able to meet this standard.

If you were educated in some other country, the U.S immigration authorities (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or “USCIS”) will, as part of the initial visa petition that your employer files on your behalf (Form I-129 or 1-140), require that you provide a copy of your academic degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from an institution of learning relating to your area of work. In addition, you may need to submit what’s called an “academic credential evaluation.”

The academic credential evaluation must come from an approved consulting service. Its purpose is to determine the U.S. equivalent of your educational level. A list of these accreditation services can be found at www.naces.org/members.htm.

Unfortunately, the immigration authorities are not required to accept the results of your education evaluation. USCIS considers these reports “nonbinding” on its decision. But such reports can be very persuasive nonetheless.

When the results of the report are favorable, they strengthen your case for a visa or green card, and help show that you qualify in the category in which you’re applying. If, however, the report shows that your credentials do not equal those required, you will not qualify in the category in which you’re applying.

If you were educated outside the United States, it’s best to get an evaluation before you are asked for it. If it’s favorable, include it with your petition. This strengthens your case and saves time if USCIS decides to request it later.

However, if your evaluation is unfavorable, your best bet is to submit the results only if USCIS insists you do. You may also, in that case, wish to consider applying in a different visa category, because your application in this one is likely to fail.

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