In an alert released today, USCIS announced that on August 19, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) no longer recognizes the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. This determination immediately impacts two immigration-related F-1 student programs:
1. English language study programs
2. F-1 visa holders applying for a 24-month science, engineering, technology, or mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension.
For the English language study program applicants, USCIS will issue Requests for Evidence (RFEs) to any individuals who have filed an I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on or after August 19, 2022, requesting a change of status or reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program. If the student does not submit a new Form I-20 from a school accredited by the ED by the RFE response deadline, USCIS will deny the change of status or reinstatement request.
Alternatively, F-1 students must hold a STEM degree from an accredited, SEVP-certified school at the time the STEM OPT application is filed. USCIS considers the filing of the application to be the date of the Designated School Official’s (DSO) recommendation on the Form I-20. As such, students whose Forms I-20 have a DSO recommendation date prior to Aug. 19, 2022, should not be affected.
SEVP will send notification letters to impacted students if their schools’ certification is withdrawn.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.
Any degrees conferred on or after August 19, 2022, by colleges and universities that are solely accredited by ACICS will no longer qualify as a U.S. degree for the H-1B advanced degree exemption (master’s cap). Moreover, the loss of accreditation 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. To clarify, a degree conferred before August 19, 2022, by a college and university that was solely accredited by ACICS should still be able to be used to qualify for the H-1B master’s cap or I-140 petitions filed under the advanced degree and professional classifications, so 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. These institutions that are no longer recognized by a qualified accreditation agency, or otherwise recognized as pre-accredited, no longer qualify for an exemption from the H-1B cap or the ACWIA fee, unless they are exempt on another basis.