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H1B Masters Degree Exemption 2017-2018: Cap Eligibility Requirements

H1B Master's Degree Exemption

With the H1B Visa 2017-2018 season in full swing, foreign workers and employers are in the midst of preparing their petitions for submission on or after April 1, 2017. An additional 20,000 spots are made available each H-1B season to accommodate foreign nationals who hold advanced degrees. In order to receive approval for the H1B visa master’s degree exemption, however, specialty workers must adhere to the strict requirements–otherwise, they risk their petition being denied.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The USCIS has just announced that the 2017-2018 H1B season is over. The released numbers state that 199,000 petitions were submitted during the filing window between April 3rd and April 6th. Read more about the H1B 2018 results and statistics in our breaking news post.

H1B Visas Annual Quota Background

H1B Visas are reserved for foreign professions with skills in specialty occupations. Based on the quota determined by USCIS, the regular H1B cap limit allows for 65,000 petitions to be selected in the lottery process. An additional 20,000 are allotted for specialty workers who possess U.S. Master’s degrees (or a higher level of education) from an eligible and accredited institution.

To get a better understanding of the H-1B Master’s Exemption for 2017-2018, take a look at this intro video:

What Type of Institution is Cap Eligible?

In order for you to qualify for the H1B master’s degree exemption, there are two main requirements:

  1. you must have earned a master’s degree from an institution that is accredited by a nationally recognized agency.
  2. The U.S. institution should also be public or non-profit in nature.

So, if the institution where you received your degree from is unaccredited or happens to be a for-profit university, your petition will be denied. Please note that you’re also subject to all the other H-1B requirements.

Likewise, if you failed to meet that requirement and your petition was denied by USCIS then you also won’t be eligible to count towards the regular (65,000) cap. For that reason, it’s crucial to ensure you meet the statutory requirements prior to filing. Failure to do so only causes delays and additional frustration.

Let’s recap the H1B Master’s cap requirements again:

  • U.S. based institution
  • Public or non-profit in nature
  • Has been accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency

Some formally recognized accrediting organizations include:

  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools

A full list of accreditation programs in the United States can be found here.

Do Not Assume All U.S. Institutions Qualify

You may be inclined to assume that all U.S. based institutions are accredited. Do not make this assumption because it may steer you in the wrong direction. For example, at one time, the University of Northern Virginia was accredited.

However, due to violations, their accreditation was revoked and subsequently shut down by the government in 2013. Graduates from this school were not eligible to file under the H1B Master’s Cap but could still file under the regular quota.

The other issue we come across frequently is schools not being public or non-profit. If a school is recognized as proprietary that means they are a for-profit institution and therefore not eligible under the criteria.

H1B visa masters cap

H-1B Denials and Requests for Evidence (RFE)

Even if your institution is Masters cap-eligible, you may still be denied entry into the master’s quota if your petition is not filed properly. This can be the result of:

  1. Insufficient evidence – this can result in either USCIS rejection or a Request for Evidence (RFE). This will come in the form of an I-797 form or receipt as well as a comprehensive list of evidence required to verify your institution and degree.
  2. Inconsistent documentation – It is important that all of the information regarding your institution matches so that the USCIS does not raise its suspicion concerning your case.

It is important to note that the USCIS takes qualifications for your institution very seriously. An RFE may be issued if the USCIS cannot determine if your institution is nationally accredited or if it is a public or non-profit organization.

It is important to note that the H1B master’s degree exemption is generally only available to those who have already graduated from an accredited public or non-profit institution. If you have completed your coursework or thesis defense but still await graduation, the USCIS will most likely deny your petition.

There have been cases of petitioners submitting a letter of completion from the dean of the institution in these situations. However, these cases have been rare and are becoming more seldom as the demand for H1B visas increases. As a result, we predict that this will not be a successful tactic for 2018.

If you move or otherwise change your address, you must inform the USCIS. The RFE will be sent to the last known address and you will be held responsible for responding to the request. If no response is given, your petition will be denied.

Because an RFE can drastically delay your petition, it is always advisable to work with your immigration attorney to ensure that your institution qualifies and all of the necessary evidence is filed correctly the first time.

If you’ve been denied for you H1B Visa, another option is to get a job with a cap-exempt employer. Normally, non-profit institutions including universities and colleges fall under this category.

H1B Master’s Cap Lottery–How Does it Work?

The Masters Cap lottery follows the process outlined below.

  1. USCIS first identifies H1B Master’s cap-eligible petition from the pool of all petitions received. If there are more than 20,000 Master’s cap-eligible applications, then USCIS runs a random computer-generated lottery to select 20,000 petitions from the Master’s pool.
  2. The petitions in the H1B Master’s Quota that did NOT get selected are placed in the pool of regular petitions.
  3. If the Regular Quota H1B pool exceeds 65,000 then a random computer lottery is run again to select 65,000 petitions. (Note: the actual numbers may be different due to the visas reserved for petitioners from Chile and Singapore)
  4. USCIS then sends letters to individuals who are selected. The next steps will then be taken to proceed with processing from adjudicating service centers.
  5. Those petitions not selected in either the Regular or Masters Quota will be sent back to the lawyer’s office or employers (with the fee). In the event that there were duplicate filings made, no fee will be given back.
  6. Selected petitioners will receive their tracking number to stay up-to-date on H1B processing times.

H1B Master’s Cap Predictions

Based on last year’s H1B season, our prediction is that the cap will be filled within the first five days after opening. Since these are just H1B Master’s Cap predictions, they are subject to change. Our prediction is merely a theory based on previous years’ data.

For more details on the H1B 2018 season, check out this complete guide. 

H1B Master’s Degree Exemption Criteria You May Qualify For

A petitioner can be considered cap-exempt if he or she:

  • Has been counted under the cap previously
  • Is considered a citizen of Singapore, Chile or Australia
    • 6,800 spots are set aside for citizens of Singapore and Chile as part of the free trade agreement.
  • Is employed by an H1B cap-exempt employer
    • Last year, some of the top cap exempt jobs included things like researchers, occupational therapists, research assistants, analysts, biologists, and nurses. Again, you’ll need to ensure that the employer is H1B cap exempt before automatically assuming.

Why Is Cap Exemption Important?

Cap-exempt petitions can be valuable for many reasons. They can be filed in order to extend the time an H1B foreign worker has in the country (essentially an H1B extension). Second, they can be filed in order to change the details/terms for a current  H1B or transfer employers.

The last reason is a cap-exempt petition can be used to facilitate a concurrent petition (for a second position). Since these are cap-exempt they can file at any point during the year, not necessarily the April 1st date.

Benefits of the H1B master’s degree exemption:

  • No numerical limit annually
  • No established filing dates
  • No set beginning dates for employment

 Summary of Quota Exemption

These petitions are not subject to the annual quotas:

  • H1B Visa amended petitions
  • Renewals and extensions
  • H1B Transfer petitions
  • If your employer is a College/University or other institution of higher education
  • Employer is a nonprofit organization or affiliated to an accredited College/University

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As of March 3, 2017, the USCIS will be temporarily suspending the premium processing service for all H1B petitions filed for the 2018 season.

 How Our H1B Attorneys Can Help

  • Our H1B attorneys have an excellent record of approvals when it comes to H1B filings. In addition, we charge a competitive flat fee and have a 100% track record of meeting filing deadlines.

  • Think you don’t qualify or are missing a vital component for the H1B Master’s Quota? Contact us to help you find a creative solution or an alternative visa option.

  • Our H1B Master’s Cap prediction is that the cap will be filled within the first five days of the window opening so it’s best to schedule a consultation as soon as possible.
  • Contact us to receive your H1B visa consultation. We can accommodate individuals who speak English, Spanish, Hindi, and Tamil.


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