The US Department of Education (ED) announced on August 19 that it would no longer recognize Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an organization to accredit colleges and universities. The ED states that ACICS failed to oversee institutions properly and lacked the administrative capability. This decision follows four compliance inquiries over these issues. The ACICS claims that it was mainly compliant with its recognition criteria, but the ED said that was not good enough. Unfortunately, the ACICS currently accredits 27 schools that enroll nearly 5,000 students.
This decision triggered a November 1 statement by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), stating that the ED decision will notably affect specific immigrant-related programs.
Big impact on 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Programs
While it affects those in English language study, the decision’s most significant impact is F-1 students applying for 24-Month STEM OPT Extension Programs, H-1B and I-140 Applicants. F1 students must use a degree from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school for their I-765 STEM OPT extension. This 24-month extension must only be applied for if a degree is from an accredited SEVP-certified school. The application will likely be denied if it was obtained from an ACICS-accredited institution if the extension is dated after August 19, 2022, on the applicant’s Form I-20.
What does this mean for immigrant students in these programs here in the US?
Schools must be accredited at the time of the application to receive a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Students currently attending ACICS-accredited schools cannot get program extensions, but students will be allowed to finish their current session if the school voluntarily withdraws its accreditation or the SEVP withdraws it. Students who can provide evidence of an ED-recognized accredited agency or other evidence besides accreditation within the allotted time can finish their studies program.
Those who receive denials or cannot continue beyond the current ACICS session can transfer to an ED-accredited SEVP-certified school and continue their studies there. Short of that, they have 60 days to prepare and depart the US. Those weighing their options may also wish to discuss their situation with an immigration law attorney who handles students pursuing a 24-month STEM OPT extension.