Foreign students attending ACICS accredited schools lose immigration benefits
Foreign students who attend U.S. schools and universities that were accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) no longer qualify for F-1 student nonimmigrant benefits. If your school notifies you that you are not going to be able to stay in the USA after this semester, please contact either us or another immigration attorney immediately. Following is an edited version of USCIS’ public announcement.
From USCIS: (https://www.uscis.gov).
The US Department of Education announced that it no longer recognizes the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. This immediately affects two immigration-related student programs:
- English language study programs.
- F-1 students applying for a 24-month science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension, as the school must be accredited at the time of the application; this is the date of the designated school official’s (DSO) recommendation on the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
SEVP will provide guidance to affected students in notification letters if their schools’ certification is withdrawn.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 and/or immigration benefits applications.
ACICS-accredited schools can no longer issue program extensions, and students will only be allowed to finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school. The only way a 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.
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 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 the 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 August 19, 2022.
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 Aug. 19, 2022, are not affected.
Impacts on H-1B Petitions and I-140, Immigrant Petitions for Alien Workers from Loss of Recognition of ACICS as an Accrediting Agency
Degrees conferred by colleges and universities solely accredited by ACICS on or after Aug. 19, 2022 no longer qualify as a U.S. degree in terms of qualifying for H-1B petitions, for the H-1B advanced degree exemption (also known as the master’s cap), or for I-140 petitions filed for the advanced degree (EB-2) or professional (EB-3) classifications.
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.
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. Those institutions are no longer recognized by a qualified accreditation agency and no longer qualify for an exemption from the H-1B cap or the ACWIA fee.