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How does the H-1B Cap and Masters Cap work? Can you qualify for the Masters Cap with a foreign degree?

A student holding a graduate degree

Every year, there is a cap of 65,000 for H1B visas, also called the “regular cap,” which also includes the 6,800 set-asides for Singaporean and Chilean applicants who qualify for the H1B1 visa. Because H1B applicants from all over the world greatly exceed this 65,000 cap each year, in March every year USCIS holds an “H1B lottery” process to select among the applicants.

This year, registration for the H1B lottery is held between March 1, 2023 and March 17, 2023. The lottery will be run and results will be notified by March 31, 2023.

In addition to this 65,000 “regular” H1B cap, there is an additional 20,000 H1B visas, also called the H1B “Masters Cap,” made available only to graduates of U.S. universities with a Master’s degree or above. This includes a Ph.D. degree, for example, and higher professional degrees such as a J.D. or M.D. for which admission requires completion of a Bachelor’s degree.

The H1B lottery process is structured in such a way to give the “Master’s Cap” candidates two chances to be selected. This is because these Master’s Cap candidates get their first chance to be selected in the “regular cap” lottery with the 65,000 spots, where some candidates would be selected, and those who do not get selected would get another chance for selection in the “Master’s Cap” lottery with 20,000 spots where the competition is limited to other Master’s Cap applicants. As a result, practically the odds of selection are significantly higher for those candidates who qualify for the Master’s Cap.

To qualify for the Masters Cap, the applicant needs to have a Masters-level degree from a U.S. institute of higher education, and cannot qualify with a foreign degree.

To qualify for the Masters Cap, the beneficiary must possess a degree U.S. institution of higher education as defined in Section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965. This includes U.S. public and private non-profit educational institutions. But it cannot be from a for-profit private institution. Foreign degree holders also do not qualify, even if the degree is equivalent to a US Master’s degree.

Do I need to have already graduated from my Masters in order to qualify for the Cap?

Yes, in most cases, the beneficiary will be only be able to participate in the Masters cap and file the H1B application if they already have graduated and obtained their Masters degree. Often in these circumstances, the applicant would be in OPT status by the time they sign up for the lottery, the year following their graduation.

More rarely in some circumstances, where the beneficiary has satisfactorily completed all degree requirements prior to April 1st, the beneficiary may be registered for the lottery even if they have not yet received their diploma.

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