One of the unique advantages of the H-1B classification is the way it accommodates a wide range of professionals with varying academic backgrounds, including those without a college degree. While most professional-level jobs in the United States require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, many individuals are working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa without a degree.
If you were wondering whether you could get the H-1B visa despite not having a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree, you can. This article provides a complete guide on how to go about your H-1B visa application process as an applicant without a degree.
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant category that allows organizations in the United States to employ foreign nationals in specialties that require technical or theoretical skills in different specialized visa eligibility criteria fields.
The H-1B covers a wide range of professions, such as finance, accounting, architecture, IT, science, engineering, medicine, etc. It is one of the most popular work visas in the United States, with no less than 85,000 visas issued every year. There are three subcategories for the H-1B visa:
- H-1B for Specialty Occupations
- H-1B2 for DOD Researchers and Development Project Workers
- H-1B3 for Fashion Models
H-1B Eligibility Criteria
As an applicant without a degree, you can petition under the specialty occupation or fashion model subcategories, provided you have the requirements to supplement the lack of a degree in your field. Each of these two subcategories has distinctive criteria.
H-1B: Specialty Occupation Requirements
The USCIS has provided the following four eligibility criteria, of which an eligible applicant must meet at least one:
- A U.S. bachelor’s degree or higher that is directly related to the specialty occupation being applied for
- A foreign degree that is equivalent to at least a United States bachelor’s degree in the specialty occupation
- An unrestricted state license, certification, or registration that gives authorization to fully practice the profession in the very state of your prospective employment
- Education, training, or progressive experience with increasing responsibility in the profession that is equivalent to the completion of the required degree in the field and the particular position you intend to occupy.
H-1B3: Fashion Model Requirements
- The eligibility criterion for this simply requires you to be a fashion model of distinguished ability and merit.
Going by the above criteria, it is evident that the H-1B visa is not out of reach for applicants who lack a university degree. If you are interested in the specialty occupation subcategory, you will need to use your experience in the field as a substitute for the lack of a degree. While academic qualifications remain the easiest way of determining eligibility, applicants who are able to expressly demonstrate a breadth of skills and abilities in their chosen career are still being granted H-1B visas by the USCIS.
However, this will require creativity from your petitioner when filing your application. Remember that you are competing with other applicants with bachelor’s, master’s, and other advanced degrees. We also recommend that you work closely with an immigration lawyer to help boost your chances.
The same applies to the fashion model subcategory. While the criterion may appear as simple as having distinguished ability or merit in the modeling industry, you will also be competing with people who combine both talents and higher academic qualifications.
How Can I Get an H-1B Without a Degree?
According to immigration regulations guiding the H-1B adjudication, proving equivalence means providing evidence of achievement of a level of competence, knowledge, and practice in the specialty occupation that has been determined to be equal to that of a person who has a baccalaureate or higher degree in the specialty. This will be determined by meeting one or more of the following five conditions:
Evaluation from a College Official
This criterion requires your petition to include an evaluation from a college official who has the authority to grant credit for training or experience in your specific field. The evaluation may involve interview sessions with you and your superiors in your present or past employment positions and a thorough review of your portfolio. If the official deems it fit, he or she may also visit your place of work to have first-hand information and documentation of the nature of projects you engage in.
Result of Recognized Exams or Special Credit Programs
Having the results of any of the recognized credit programs such as the Program on Noncollegiate Sponsored Instruction (PONOSI) or the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) is another way of making up for lack of a degree in the H-1B requirements.
Whichever program result you wish to use, make sure that it relates to the very specialty occupation in question. It is important to consult your immigration lawyer first to determine which equivalency examination will be most appropriate in your case.
Evaluation of Foreign Academic Qualification
If your qualifications were acquired outside the United States, your credentials will be evaluated to determine if it meets the equivalency of the U.S. degree. This will be conducted by a reliable credential evaluation service.
Evidence of Certification from a Reputable Association
You can also qualify for an H-1B without a degree by presenting proof of registration or certification from a nationally-recognized professional organization in your field. Keep in mind that not all organizations will count for this criterion.
For an organization to be recognized, it must be one that grants certification only to those who have attained a certain level of accomplishments in the profession. Furthermore, your membership in the association must be based on merit and your personal past achievements in the field. You can increase your chances by submitting the association’s membership constitution to prove it meets the criterion.
Evidence of Combination of Education, Specialized Training and Experience Equivalent to a Degree
Having ample experience in your field of specialty will be of substantial benefit to your case. The totality of your experience and practical training will be considered by the adjudicating officer in charge of your case.
According to this criterion, three years of specialized training and job experience will be considered to be equivalent to one year of college-level training that you lack. The job experience or specialized training must be seen to be directly related to the specialty occupation you are seeking to use for your H-1B.
It must also be established that you acquired your experience through years of working with subordinates, peers, and supervisors who have a degree or its equivalent in the field. This must be proven by at least one of the following:
- Attestation to your expertise in the field by at least two recognized authorities in the specialty occupation
- Membership in a recognized professional association in your field either in the United States or a foreign country
- Published material about or by you in a professional publication, trade journal, major newspaper, or book
- License to practice the occupation in a foreign country
- Evidence of your major contribution to the field as determined by a recognized authority in the specialty occupation.
How to Process H-1B Visa
The H-1B application process involves three major steps, which are:
The Labor Certification
The Labor Condition Application (LCA) is a prerequisite requirement for H-1B approval. It is overseen by the Department of Labor to ensure that the employment process between an H-1B worker and his or her employer is conducted according to the U.S. labor regulations.
The LCA contains information about the job title, duration, location, and wages. It also ensures that the employer’s current workforce will not be negatively affected if you were to be hired. It must be approved before your employer can submit the H-1B petition to the USCIS.
Submission of the I-129
Once the LCA is approved by the DOL, your employer will submit the H-1B petition to the USCIS using an I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. The form must include all the required supporting evidence to establish your eligibility, including the approved LCA. How you present your petition has a significant impact on your approval chances. The average processing time for a properly filed I-129 is around six months, depending on the service center in charge of your case.
If you are applying from outside the U.S., you will have to go through consular processing to apply for a visa once the I-129 has been approved. This will be done at the U.S. embassy in your country of residence. Consular processing involves a one-on-one interview with a consular officer.
H-1B Processing Time
You can apply for an H-1B visa using the regular application process or you can use premium processing. The regular processing time takes an average of six months. However, it can be much longer in some cases depending on factors that have to do with the applicant or the service center in charge of the case.
The H-1B premium processing service, on the other hand, guarantees a processing time of 15 calendar days before you receive a decision on your petition. It is a special service that costs an extra fee of $1,440. For those who can afford it, the premium processing service is an efficient way of expediting the process, especially if you want to resume on your H-1B job without delay.
However, premium processing does not increase your chances of approval or selection in the H-1B lottery and it does not change the fact that all cap-subject petitions that are selected are not effective until October 1st of that same year. Therefore, it is important to speak with your immigration attorney to determine if premium processing is appropriate for your situation.
Newly Proposed H-1B Registration System
There have been some recently proposed changes to the H-1B visa process that affect the next year’s filing procedures. On November 7th, 2019, the USCIS announced that the $10 non-refundable registration fee will be mandatory for the 2020 H-1B filing season.
The new H-1B rule will require petitioners to first submit names and other information about their prospective employees through the pre-registration system. The USCIS lottery will then select 85,000 registrations to go onto processing. Only the selected registrations will be eligible to file a petition. With this development, the H-1B visa processing will commence earlier than April to allow petitioners enough time to complete their registrations.
While we are monitoring the changes closely to ensure you get the latest information about the new system, we will also recommend that you start gathering your documents now and ensure that every necessary item is ready before February 2020, which will likely mark the beginning of the next H-1B season.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
The H-1B visa is the most competitive nonimmigrant classification in the United States, especially for non-degree holder applicants. You will be competing against individuals that have a combination of job experience, training, talents, and academic qualifications. Therefore, you need an experienced H-1B immigration attorney to help you prepare your petition and help improve your chances.
Here at Immi-USA, we have a team of highly experienced immigration lawyers that has helped countless individuals successfully obtain H-1B visa approval without a degree. We will help you prepare your petition and ensure that your job experience and other achievements are carefully highlighted to improve your chances. You can schedule a consultation with us today by filling out this contact form.