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On Aug. 19, the United States Department of Education (ED) announced that it no longer recognizes the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. This has big implications for immigrant students or those looking to become one. If you’re suddenly facing issues from this announcement, you can contact our trusted immigration attorneys at Inderjit K. Sidhu, Esq., LLC, for assistance.
In this article, we will answer the following questions:
- What does the loss of ACICS accreditation mean for me?
- How does this affect English language study programs?
- What does it mean for The 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Program?
- What are the other effects of this loss of recognition?
- Where can I find an immigration attorney to help me?
For any other immigration-related concerns, pick up your phone and call our Princeton immigration office. Our experienced attorney is always at your service!
What Does the Loss of ACICS Accreditation Mean for Me?
This determination immediately affects two immigration-related student programs:
- English language study programs, as the programs are required to be accredited under the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act; and
- F-1 students applying for a 24-month science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension, as the regulations require them to use a degree from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school for their STEM OPT extension. The school must be accredited at the time of the application; this is the date of the designated school official’s (DSO) recommendation on Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. M-1 students are not eligible for OPT.
SEVP will provide guidance to affected students in notification letters if their schools’ certification is withdrawn. However, students enrolled at an ACICS-accredited school should contact their DSOs immediately to better understand if and how the loss of recognized accreditation will affect their status or immigration benefits applications.
ACICS-accredited schools will be unable to issue program extensions, and students will only be allowed to finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school chooses to withdraw its certification voluntarily or is withdrawn by SEVP. 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 timeframe, the student may remain at the school to complete their program of study.
English Language Study Programs
USCIS will issue requests for evidence (RFEs) to any individual who has filed Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on or after Aug. 19, 2022, requesting a change of status or reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program. Upon receiving an RFE, individuals will have an 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 ED, USCIS will deny a change of status or reinstatement request.
The 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Program
F-1 students wishing to participate in the STEM OPT extension program must have a degree from an ED-recognized accredited U.S. educational institution at the time they file their STEM OPT application. As noted above, USCIS considers the filing of the application to be the date of the DSO’s recommendation on Form I-20.
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 Aug. 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. Students who receive a denial will have 60 days to prepare for departure from the United States, transfer to a different school, or begin a new course of study at an accredited, SEVP-certified school.
Students whose Forms I-20 have a D.S.O. recommendation date prior to Aug. 19, 2022, are not affected.
Other Impacts from Loss of Recognition of ACICS as an Accrediting Agency
Accrediting agencies help verify institutional quality and assist in the improvement of these institutions. The loss of ACICS as a recognized accrediting body in the eyes of the education department has many implications for immigration.
Degrees from an ACICS accredited school no longer qualify as US degrees.
The 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 Aug. 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).
For beneficiaries who hold affected degrees, the 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).
However, a degree conferred by those colleges and universities before Aug. 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.
If your degree comes from an ACICS accredited institution, you should check to see whether this development affects your immigration plans.
No longer eligible for some fee exemptions
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.
Where Do I Find an Attorney to Help Me?
This recent announcement may affect your plans to immigrate to the United States. To ensure your transfer to the US won’t be affected, you should consult our knowledgeable New Jersey immigration attorney.
Inderjit K. Sidhu Esq. LLC. is an established law firm that has operated for over 15 years. We have helped many clients through each immigration journey with an impressive 97% approval rate!
Our firm is committed to providing quality and efficient service without compromising accessibility to our clients, whose needs take priority. We monitor developments in immigration law and use state-of-the-art technology for our research, client communications, and case management. Our firm has a reputation for providing quality work with positive results.
If you’re ready to take a shot at the American Dream, call our reliable immigration attorney now to get started!