H1B Visa Lawyer – Wondering if you can qualify for H-1B visa if you do not have a degree?

Many readers of the Blog and our clients often want to know how can they qualify for the H1B visa even without a degree. Attorney Kate Powell from our office prepared an excellent article on the topic and it is featured below.

H-1B is a nonimmigrant work visa category, which applies to people who wish to come to the U.S. to perform services in a specialty occupation. Some think that they are not qualified for this visa category merely because they do not hold a baccalaureate level of education. In actuality, there are ways to overcome the Bachelor’s degree requirement if you have enough qualifying work experience. Below is the summary of the current regulations and guidelines that can help you determine whether you can qualify for H-1B.

Pursuant to Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations (8 C.F.R.), part 214.2 (h) (4) (iii) (C), you can qualify for a specialty occupation based on education, specialized training, and/or progressively responsible experience that is equivalent to completion of a United States baccalaureate or higher degree in the specialty occupation, and you have recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty.

The equivalence of work experience to a degree can be determined by one or more of the following: (a) an evaluation by a college official authorized to grant credit for training and/or experience in the specialty; (b) the results of college-level equivalency examinations or special credit programs; or (c) certification or registration from nationally recognized professional associations for the specialty. See 8 C.F.R. 214.2 (h) (4) (iii) (D).

An evaluation by a college official is usually the most common form of work experience evaluation. As a practical matter, USCIS often accepts professors’ opinions that a person’s work experience or combination of education and work experience is equivalent to a degree. Please note that credentials evaluation services are not allowed to evaluate your work experience to prove that work experience is equivalent to a degree. Regulations limit the scope of foreign credential evaluators to evaluating only foreign education.

Proof of the qualifying work experience usually includes letters from your former employers. The letters from previous employers should contain the location, dates of employment, job title, and the duties you had, as well as the theoretical knowledge used and its practical application. The letters should include a statement that your peers, subordinates, or supervisors also held the degrees in the specialty occupation, if that’s the case. In case your previous employers no longer exist or it is impossible to obtain a letter from them, a letter from a coworker is usually sufficient.

Work experience equivalency determination – “Three-for-one” rule

USCIS may determine equivalency of your work experience through application of the “three-for-one” rule, by which three years of specialized training and/or work experience may be substituted for each year of college-level education that the beneficiary lacks.

However, experience alone is not a sufficient substitute for a Master’s degree. For equivalence to an advanced (or Master’s) degree, the alien must have a baccalaureate degree followed by at least five years of experience in the specialty. If required by a specialty, the alien must hold a Doctorate degree or its foreign equivalent.

If you do not have any college level education, you will need at least 12 years of qualifying work experience. How can you determine how many years of experience you need if you have some college education, but you are lacking a degree? Say you have foreign education that is equivalent to 3 years of college level education in the U.S. You lack one year of education to qualify for a Bachelor’s Degree. If you have three years of qualifying work experience, you can substitute it for the lacking year of education. In other words, your education combined with work experience may equate to a Bachelor’s degree.

In that case, you would have to go through a two-step process. At first, you will need to evaluate your foreign educational credentials to determine how many years of work experience are necessary to qualify under the current regulations. Second, you will need to follow the guidelines on how to substitute education for work experience as described above. If you need more information on the above referenced topic, feel free to email or call us at anytime.