On August 19, 2022, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) was no longer recognized as an accrediting agency by the United States Department of Education (DOE). In response, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently gave a notice outlining the immigration impact of this DOE accreditation lapse for various foreign nationals. Foreign nationals seeking to enroll in an English language study program at an ACICS-accredited school. STEM OPT applicants who have completed a program at an affected school. And certain beneficiaries of H1B and I-140 immigrant petitions are affected, as explained by the USCIS.
Background on Immigration Impact of ACICS
The DOE found ACICS to be non-compliant in 2016, during the Obama government. As a result, ACICS lost its accreditation in December of that year. However, that decision was overturned in 2018 by the Trump government. The DOE once more recognized ACICS as a nationally recognized accrediting agency. And applied this decision to the date in December 2016 when it was stripped of this recognition. The DOE found ACICS to violate federal recognition criteria once more during the Biden administration. As a result, ACICS will lose its status as a nationally recognized accrediting agency on 19th August 2022.
English Language Study Programs
Immigration Impact: An accredited English language study program is one of the requirements for an F-1 student to enroll in one. It is no longer permitted for a program to accept F-1 students if it is accredited solely by ACICS. Students enrolled in such a program are permitted to finish the current session by the updated USCIS guidance. But they will not be granted extensions based on that program.
The USCIS will issue a request for evidence (RFE) to a foreign national who has a pending I-539 application for a change of status. Or reinstatement of F-1 status to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program. The student will then be given the chance to provide evidence that the program qualifies (is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency). The USCIS will deny a request for a change of status or reinstatement. If the student is unable to give a new form I-20 from a school accredited by a recognized agency.
STEM OPT Applications
If the F-1 student did not earn a degree from an accredited institution, they will not be eligible for a STEM OPT extension. Therefore, the STEM OPT application will be denied by USCIS if BOTH
- The STEM degree that is the subject of the STEM OPT extension was earned from an institution that was solely accredited by ACICS.
- On form I-20, the university’s recommendation for STEM OPT from the designated school official (DSO) is dated after 19th August 2022.
Fortunately, foreign nationals have already been approved for STEM OPT. Or who applied for an OPT extension based on an I-20 dated 18th August 2022, or earlier are unaffected by the DOE’s decision.
Impact on H1B and I-140 Petitions
The foreign national should hold a master’s or higher degree from an accredited U.S. university. To be eligible for the H1B master’s cap. The individual may still be eligible for the master’s cap. If they graduated from an ACICS-accredited school before 19th August 2022. However, if the F-1 student graduated on or after 19th August 2022. That would not be considered a qualifying degree for the master’s cap. Similarly, a degree from an ACICS-accredited school cannot be used to qualify for an H1B position. Or for a professional or advanced degree position listed in an I-140 petition, unless the degree was issued before 19th August 2022.
There were fewer than thirty schools accredited by the ACICS in the United States as of August 2022. Therefore, only a small number of foreign nationals will be directly affected by this DOE decision. However, it might be beneficial for those who are affected to speak with a skilled immigration attorney to learn about any available options.