The Matter of Shah and Why it Should NOT Matter


Why did your client or employee get an education RFE? The three-year bachelor’s degree is one of the most common reasons well qualified and even over-qualified candidates receive an RFE instead of an outright approval. The USCIS reasons that a three-year degree does not equate to a US four-year bachelor’s degree on the grounds of that missing year. Another common reason is a mismatched major. In the recent past, the USCIS would accept that a candidate is qualified for his or her H1b job because the candidate held the necessary degree in a related field. Now, the major must exactly miss the field of employ.

What does the Matter of Shah have to do with any of this?

The decision to this matter, made in 1977, is the most widely cited reason the USCIS and their evaluation board gives for issuing an RFE or rejecting a visa petition outright. In this decision, it was determined that the candidate, who held a three-year Indian bachelor’s degree with chemistry as a special subject from Gujarat University and a two-year MBA from the University of Detroit was not academically qualified for a job in the United States as a chemist. The candidate had never been employed in the field of chemistry, which also weighed into the decision in the Matter of Shah.

To this day – almost 40 years later – this decision is given as grounds to bar countless qualified candidates from the visas they deserve based on a three-year degree not being equivalent to a US four-year degree. Is this decision solid grounds for denial?

No. Here is why:

First, the board that made the decision in the Matter of Shah never actually made a complete analysis of the candidate’s education. The decision was based on analysis of just the second year of the candidate’s three-year undergraduate transcripts. With only one year to consider, the board had no way of discerning the actual academic content of the candidate’s degree. That would require looking at the total number of classroom contact hours and academic rigor of all three years of the candidate’s undergraduate study. This means that they actual academic value of the candidate’s education was never actually taken into accurate consideration in this decision. In the verbatim of the board’s decision, it was even stated that a US four-year bachelor’s degree requires “usually” four years of study. “Usually” means that sometimes it is more and sometimes it is less. The US four-year degree requires a minimum of 1800 classroom contact hours to graduate.

Former Professor of Physics at the University of Mumbai, Gulab Vaswani reports, “Every three-year bachelor’s degree program in India has more than 2000 contact hours with some having more than 3000.”

At the same time, the board never analyzed the proportion of the candidate’s study devoted to chemistry. Therefore, the decision that the candidate did not meet the academic qualifications for the job of chemist was also misinformed.

Which leads right into the second reason the Matter of Shah should not matter.

The candidate had earned a three-year degree from an accredited university with chemistry as a special subject. The word “Special” was never determined in the board’s decision. Credential evaluators across the country have found time and again that a “special” subject in an Indian three-year degree is the academic equivalent of a “major” subject in a US four-year degree. This means that the special subject has equal to or more credit hours than that same subject as a major in a US four-year undergraduate program. Therefore, the candidate did in fact major in chemistry in the Matter of Shah.

Even though the board did not recognize the value of the candidate’s undergraduate degree, the University of Detroit certainly did. In fact, the university admitted the candidate into their MBA program based on the three-year Indian bachelor’s degree being the equivalent of the US four-year bachelor’s degree necessary to gain entrance into that very program. The fact that the candidate went on to successfully complete the two-year MBA program goes to show that the Indian three-year degree with chemistry as a special subject really did qualify the candidate for the graduate program.

Finally, the last reason I will go into for why the Matter of Shah should not be grounds for denying anyone’s visa is that in making the decision, the board overturned a previous ruling. This ruling was made by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and can be found in Appendix 5-F, pages 34-37 of the Immigrant Inspector’s Handbook. In this ruling, the department stated that a B.S. degree in chemistry from the candidate’s university, Gujarat University, is the equivalent of a United States B.S. degree.

The Matter of Shah has its foundation in four errors:

1. Incomplete evaluation of the academic content of the candidate’s degree.

2. Failing to translate the term “Special” into US academic context.

3. Ignoring the University of Detroit’s decision to admit the candidate into their graduate program based on the academic value of the candidate’s three-year Indian bachelor’s degree, as well as the candidate’s successful completion of the MBA.

4. Overturning a previous ruling that determined that the candidate’s exact degree was the equivalent of a US four-year bachelor’s degree.

The Matter of Shah should not serve as a roadblock to Visa approval. Unfortunately, almost forty years later, it still does. If your client or employee received an RFE about their three-year bachelor’s degree, you need to provide a credential evaluation that includes a refutation of the Matter of Shah. As you can see, refuting the Matter of Shah as grounds for a decision about the value of a three-year Indian bachelor’s degree or specialization is not difficult to do in a credential evaluation. However, the evaluator you select must be well versed in USCIS and immigration precedents, and be able to provide the documentation that highlights these points of refutation.

Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Sheila Danzig is the Executive Director of CCI a Foreign Credentials Evaluation Agency. For a no charge analysis of any difficult case, RFEs, Denials, or NOIDs, please go to or call 800.771.4723. Mention that you saw this in the ILW article and get 72 hour rush service at no charge.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.