ACICS Loss of Accreditation Affects Some Immigrant Students

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) no longer recognizes Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS.) This affects two immigrant-related programs– English language study and F1 students who are applying for a 24-month science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension.

On December 12, 2016, ED announced English language study programs require accreditation under the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act. STEM OPT extension students require the use of a degree from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school as the basis of the extension. The date of the Designated School Official’s (DSO) recommendation as it appears on Form I-20 is applied to student applications.

According to the USCIS release, students attending schools where certification is withdrawn will receive guidance from SEVP through notification letters. “However, students enrolled at an ACICS-accredited school should contact their designated school officials (DSOs) immediately to better understand if and how the loss of recognized accreditation will impact the F/M student’s status and/or immigration benefits application(s).

In cases where an ACICS-accredited school withdraws its SEVP certification voluntarily, or the school can’t provide evidence in lieu of accreditation for Form I-17-listed program, international students at these schools will have 18 months to take one of these actions:

  • Transfer to a new SEVP-certified program.
  • Continue on the study program through to the current session end date that’s listed on their Form I-20 for a period not to exceed 18 months.
  • Leave the United States.

SEVP will terminate the SEVIS records of active F/M students at any ACICS-accredited school who hasn’t transferred to a SEVP-certified school or who hasn’t departed the United States after the 18-month grace period. “Please note, this guidance applies equally to all F/M students—regardless of program of study and the 18-month period is valid for English as a Second Language (ESL) students as well,” the release reads.

With the policy, ACICS-accredited schools cannot issue program extensions. Only in cases where ACICS-accredited schools select to voluntarily withdraw certification or the certification is withdrawn by SEVP, will the student be allowed to finish the current session. Only in cases where ACICS-accredited schools that provide evidence of an ED-recognized accrediting agency– or evidence in lieu of accreditation within the allotted timeframe– students are allowed to remain at the school to complete their program of study.

English Language Study Programs

Individuals who’ve filed Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status on or since Dec. 12, 2016, to request a change of status or reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program will receive a request for evidence (RFE) from the USCIS. Individuals who receive an RFE then have the opportunity to provide documentation or other evidence showing the desired English language study program meets the accreditation requirements.

Students who don’t submit a new Form I-20 from an accredited school, won’t be granted a change of status or reinstatement request from USCIS because the program of study is no longer accredited by an ED-recognized entity.  

More information about the loss of ACICS accreditation on English language study programs is available at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s page on ACICS Loss of Accreditation Recognition.

The 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Program

F-1 students must have a degree from an ED-recognized accredited U.S. educational institution at the time they file their STEM OPT application in order to participate in the STEM OPT extension. The filing date corresponds to be the date of the DSO’s recommendation on the Form I-20.

F-1 students filing a Form I-765 STEM OPT extension will be denied by USCIS in cases where both of these conditions exist:

  • The STEM degree on which the STEM OPT extension was obtained was from an ACICS-accredited college or university; and
  • The student’s DSO recommendation for a STEM OPT extension– and as indicated on Form I-20– has a date of December 12, 2016, or after.

The ACICS loss of accreditation prevents these students from qualifying for a STEM OPT extension because of the requirement that students use a STEM degree from an accredited, SEVP-certified school at the time of application,. Students who receive a denial to their requests 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 a school that is accredited and SEVP-certified.
Students who filed Form I-20 with a DSO recommendation date prior to December 12, 2016, aren’t affected by the new policy. More information about the impact of the loss of ACICS recognition on the STEM OPT extension program, is available at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s page on ACICS Loss of Accreditation Recognition.