On August 19, 2022 the Department of Education (ED) announced that it will no longer recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. This decision has a domino effect regarding students attending these schools and the degrees of alumni from these schools obtained on or after August 19, 2022.
The student programs affected will be English language study programs and F-1 students applying for 24-month science, technology, engineering, mathematics optional practical (STEM OPT). Other areas affected are qualifying for an H-1B advanced degree exemption (the master’s cap) and beneficiary requirements for I-140 petitions filed.
English Language Study Programs
USCIS will be issuing Request for Evidence documents (RFEs) to individuals filing a Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status on or after August 19, 2022 and requesting a change of status or reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program. This will give an individual an opportunity to show documentation that the English language study program they are seeking to enroll in meets accreditation requirements.
If a student does not submit a new Form I-20 from a school accredited by an entity recognized by ED, USCIS will deny change of status or reinstatement request.
24-Month STEM OPT Extension Program
As the regulations currently stand, F-1 students seeking a STEM OPT extension require a degree from an accredited, Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school. The school must be accredited at the time of application and is the same date of the designated school official’s (DSO) recommendation on the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. SEVP will notify and provide guidance to affected students that the school’s certification is withdrawn in a letter. However, it is also recommended that affected students enrolled at an ACICS-accredited school contact their DSOs to further understand the effect on their status and/or immigration benefits applications.
H-1B Advanced Degree Exemption, known as the Master’s Cap
An institution no longer recognized by a qualified accreditation agency cannot claim an H-1B or ACWIA fee cap exemption as an institution of higher education unless they are exempt on another basis. However, if a degree was conferred by one of the affected colleges or universities before August 19, 2022, it can still be considered as a degree from an accredited institution and be used for the H-1B master’s cap, beneficiary requirements explained and I-140 petitions filed under advanced degree and professional classifications, given all other requirements are met.