In this blog post, we bring you some unfortunate news. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it will no longer recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency.
Sadly, this means that certain F-1 student visa applicants will be impacted by this change, including those undertaking an English language study program. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said that such programs are required to be accredited under the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act.
Additionally, this change will impact F-1 students applying for a 24-month science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension, because government regulations now require use of a degree from an accredited, Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school to receive a STEM OPT extension.
The regulations make clear that the school must be accredited at the time of the application (the date of the designated school official’s (DSO) recommendation on the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status).
What happens next?
Students who have been impacted by this change will receive notification letters from SEVP informing them that their schools’ certification has been withdrawn.
USCIS has said that students who are enrolled at an ACICS-accredited school should contact their DSOs immediately to understand how this loss of accreditation will impact their status and/or immigration benefits.
To make matters worse, schools accredited by ACICS will not be able to issue program extensions, and students will only be allowed to finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school chooses to voluntarily withdraw its certification or if is withdrawn by SEVP.
If a student’s ACICS-accredited school can provide evidence of a Department of Education recognized accrediting agency or evidence in lieu of accreditation within the allotted timeframe, the student may remain at the school to complete their program of study.
Requests for Evidence Imminent for I-539 Extend/Change of Status
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be issuing requests for evidence (RFEs) to individuals who filed Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on or after August 19, 2022, requesting a change of status or reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program.
Once the individual receives the RFE, they will be given the opportunity to provide evidence in response, such as documentation showing that the English language study program they are seeking to enroll in meets the accreditation requirements.
If the student does not submit a new Form I-20 from a school accredited by an entity recognized by the Department of Education, USCIS will deny a change of status or reinstatement request.
Who can receive a 24-Month STEM OPT Extension?
F-1 students who want to participate in the STEM OPT extension program must have a degree from a Department of Education recognized accredited U.S. educational institution at the time they file their STEM OPT application.
As noted above, USCIS will consider the filing of the application to be the date of the DSO’s recommendation on the Form I-20.
Who can be denied for a STEM OPT Extension?
USCIS will issue a denial to any F-1 student filing a Form I-765 STEM OPT extension if:
- The STEM degree that is the basis for the STEM OPT extension was obtained from a college or university that was accredited by ACICS; and
- The student’s DSO recommendation for a STEM OPT extension, as indicated on Form I-20, is dated on or after August 19, 2022 (the date when ACICS ceased to be recognized as an accrediting agency).
Because students must use a STEM degree from an accredited, SEVP-certified school at the time of application, the ACICS loss of recognition as an accrediting agency prevents these students from qualifying for a STEM OPT extension.
What happens if I receive a denial of my STEM OPT extension?
Students who receive a denial will have 60 days to prepare for departure from the United States, transfer to a different school, or to begin a new course of study at an accredited, SEVP-certified school.
Students whose Forms I-20 have a DSO recommendation date prior to August 19, 2022, are not affected.
What does this change mean for H-1B master’s cap applicants?
This loss of recognition means that colleges and universities solely accredited by ACICS are no longer accredited institutions, and any degrees conferred by those colleges and universities on or after August 19, 2022, will no longer qualify as a U.S. degree in terms of qualifying for the H-1B advanced degree exemption (also known as the master’s cap) or for the beneficiary requirements at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(1).
What does this mean for I-140 filings?
For beneficiaries who hold affected degrees, this loss of recognition also affects those I-140 petitions filed under the advanced degree and professional classifications where the beneficiary’s educational credentials must be a U.S. degree or foreign equivalent degree. See 8 CFR 204.5(k)(2) and 8 CFR 204.5(l)(2).
Degrees Conferred before August 19, 2022
However, there is a silver lining. A degree conferred by those colleges and universities before August 19, 2022, while the college or university was accredited, is generally considered to be a degree from an accredited institution, and can be used to qualify for the H-1B master’s cap or for the beneficiary requirements at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(1) and I-140 petitions filed under the advanced degree and professional classifications, as long as all other requirements are met.
Impact on the ACWIA Fee Exemption on H-1B Petitioners
The loss of recognition also affects cases in which the petitioner is claiming an H-1B cap or ACWIA fee exemption as an institution of higher education.
To qualify for an H-1B cap or ACWIA fee exemption, the university or college must meet the definition of an “institution of higher education” in 20 U.S.C. 1001(a). That definition requires, in pertinent part, that the institution “is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association, or if not so accredited, is an institution that has been granted preaccreditation status by such an agency….”
Those institutions that are no longer recognized by a qualified accreditation agency, or otherwise recognized as preaccredited, would no longer qualify for an exemption from the H-1B cap or the ACWIA fee, unless they are exempt on another basis.
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- ACICS Loss of Recognition May Affect Certain Students Applying for English Language Study and 24-month STEM OPT Extension Programs, H-1B, and I-140 ApplicantsDesignation: Ethiopia for Temporary Protected Status
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) School Member Directory
- SEVP Guidance The Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act
- USCIS Extends Flexibilities to Respond to RFEs
- DOS Youtube Channel
- DOS Visa Services Operating Status Update
- ImmigrationU Membership
- Success stories
- Youtube channel
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