If you’re applying for an English language study program or a 24-month STEM OPT extension, you may be affected by an announcement made by the U.S. Department of Education on August 19, 2022, in which they shared that they are no longer recognizing the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. It is reported that the ACICS currently accredits 27 schools that enroll nearly 5,000 students.
The effects of this decision means that any schools that were accredited by the ACICS will now be unable to issue program extensions, and students will only be able to finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school chooses to voluntarily withdraw its certification or if it is withdrawn by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). However, If a student’s ACICS-accredited school can provide evidence of an ED-recognized accrediting agency or evidence in lieu of accreditation within the allotted time frame, the student may remain at the school to complete their program of study.
What Does This Mean for Immigration-related Student Programs in the US?
Two student programs are directly affected: English language student programs, and F-1 students applying for a 24-month science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension. English language student programs must be accredited under the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act, and the 24-month STEM OPT extension must only be applied for if a degree is held from an accredited SEVP certified school. The school must be accredited at the time of the application, which is noted by the school official’s recommendation on your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. M-1 students are not eligible for OPT.
If your school’s certification is withdrawn, you will receive a notification letter from SEVP in which they will provide guidance on what you should do next. However, if you know that you are enrolled at an ACICS-accredited school, it is recommended that you contact your DSO immediately to understand if your status will be affected.
If you have filed a Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on or after August 19, 2022 in hopes to change your status or receive reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program, you’ll receive a request for evidence (RFE) from the USCIS. You’ll then be given the opportunity to provide evidence showing that the institution you wish to enroll in meets accreditation requirements. Your change of status or reinstatement request will be denied if you do not submit a new Form I-20 for a school accreditation by an entity recognized by ED.
If you are an F-1 status student looking to participate in the STEM OPT extension program, you’ll need to have a degree from an ED-recognized accreditation US educational institution at the time that you file your application. Your Form I-765 STEM OPT extension may be denied if:
- The degree which is the basis for your STEM OPT extension was obtained from an educational institution that was accredited by ACICS; and
- The DSO recommendation for a STEM OPT extension is dated on or after August 19, 2022 on your Form I-20.
If you do receive a denial, you’ll have 60 days to prepare for your departure from the US, transfer to a new school, or begin a new course of study at an accredited, SEVP-certified school.
NoteIf your Form I-20 has a DSO recommendation date prior to August 19, 2022, you are not affected.
Other Impacts of the ACICS Loss of Recognition
This change also affects the following:
- Colleges/Universities that were solely accredited by ACICS are no longer accreditation institutions, meaning any degrees granted on or after August 19, 2022 no longer qualifies as a US degree for the H-1B advanced degree exemption or for the beneficiary requirements at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(1).
- Those who have I-140 petitions filed under the advanced degree and professional classifications where the educational credentials are from an ACICS accredited school (if the degree was granted on or after August 19, 2022) are also affected.
- Cases in which the petitioner is claiming an H-1B cap or ACWIA fee exemption are also affected if the degree was granted by an ACICS accredited institution on or after August 19, 2022.
For more information regarding the loss of ACICS recognition and its effects, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s website.