USCIS Should Accept Provisional Degree Certificate as Proof Degree Was Received for Advanced Degree Professionals

Matter of T______ - AAO


February 28, 2017

The Council filed an amicus brief in a case pending before the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), an administrative body at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that reviews denials of most employment-based visa petitions. For the “advanced degree professional” employment-based second preference immigrant visa category (EB-2), the employer’s educational requirement for the job offered must be at least a master’s degree or the equivalent. Consistent with congressional intent, USCIS accepts a bachelor’s degree followed by five years of progressive experience in the foreign national’s specialty as the equivalent of a master’s degree. However, USCIS has not been consistent as to what evidence it will accept as proof that the foreign national has received a bachelor’s degree. In this case, the foreign national had a Provisional Degree Certificate, commonly issued by universities in India, indicating that she qualified for the award of a bachelor’s degree. In India, the diploma ceremony can be months or years after the graduate qualifies for the degree. This foreign national’s diploma was issued in February 2009.  Using that date  and rejecting the Provisional Degree Certificate and other evidence that she had met the degree requirements months earlier, USCIS concluded that the foreign national was 65 days short of having the five years of post-degree experience and thus lacked the equivalent of an advanced degree.

In its amicus brief, the Council urged the AAO to reject an interpretation of the “advanced degree” requirement as limited to the date on a diploma. First, the plain meaning of “degree” in the EB-2 statute is completion of the degree requirements. A Provisional Degree Certificate meets this requirement; a conclusion that is supported by the opinion of a credentials evaluation organization the AAO recognizes as authoritative. The Council urged the AAO to adopt the reasoning of a non-precedent decision in which the AAO had agreed that “degree” meant that the requirements were met. Alternatively, if the AAO does not find a plain meaning, a narrow diploma-date interpretation should be rejected for conflicting with congressional intent as to degree equivalency and USCIS’ regulation that an “official academic record” is evidence that the foreign national has the degree. The authoritative credentials evaluation opinion demonstrates that a Provisional Degree Certificate is comparable to a U.S. transcript with degree statement. The petition denial here is a clear example of USCIS narrowly interpreting the statute in order to say “no” and the AAO should reject yet another attempt to limit visa eligibility contrary to Congress’ intent.

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