Certain students applying for 24-month STEM OPT (optional practical training in science, technology, engineering, or math) extension programs and English language study programs are being affected by the U.S. Department of Education’s decision in December no longer to recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced that this determination immediately affects two immigration-related programs:
- English language study programs, as the programs are required to be accredited under the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act
- F-1 students applying for a 24-month STEM OPT extension, as the regulations require them to use a degree from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school as the basis of their STEM OPT extensions. The school must be accredited at the time of the application; this is the date of the Designated School Official’s (DSO) recommendation on the Form I-20.
SEVP will provide guidance to affected students in notification letters if their school’s certification is withdrawn. 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).”
If an ACICS-accredited school voluntarily withdraws from SEVP certification or cannot provide evidence in lieu of accreditation for programs listed on their Form I-17, international students at these schools will have 18 months to:
- Transfer to a new SEVP-certified program;
- Continue their program of study until the current session end date listed on their Form I-20 (not to exceed 18 months); or
- Leave the United States.
After this 18-month grace period, SEVP will terminate the SEVIS records of any active F/M student at an ACICS-accredited school who has not transferred to a SEVP-certified school or departed the United States. USCIS said this guidance applies equally to all F/M students regardless of the program of study, and the 18-month period is valid for English as a Second Language (ESL) students as well.
ACICS-accredited schools will be unable to issue program extensions, and students will only be allowed to finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school voluntarily withdraws its certification or if it is withdrawn by SEVP. If a student’s ACICS-accredited school is able to provide evidence of an ED-recognized accrediting agency or evidence in lieu of accreditation within the allotted time frame, the student may remain at the school to complete his or her
Students whose Forms I-20 have a DSO recommendation date before December 12, 2016, are not affected.
The USCIS announcement is at https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/certain-students-applying-english-language-study-and-24-month-stem-opt-extension-programs-affected-acics-loss-accreditation. More information about the loss of accreditation is at https://www.ice.gov/sevis/acics-loss-accreditation-recognition.