A move to revoke federal recognition of an accreditor of for-profit colleges has affected two immigration-related student programs.

On Aug. 19, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would no longer recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). This change has potential immediate effects for international students enrolled in or with a degree from ACICS-accredited schools. In particular, the change could affect students applying for a 24-month science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (OPT) extension or those enrolled in an English language study program.

  • Students applying for STEM OPT extensions. F-1 students applying for a STEM OPT extension must have a degree from a school that is accredited and certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. The school must be accredited at the time of the application, i.e., the date of the designated school official’s recommendation on a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it will deny applications from students at ACICS-accredited schools if the date of the recommendation is Aug. 19 or later.
  • Students enrolled in English language study programs. English language study programs must be accredited under the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act. USCIS will issue requests for evidence to anyone who filed a Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on or after Aug. 19 and is seeking a change of status or reinstatement to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program. Upon receiving the request, individuals will have the opportunity to show that the English language study program they seek to enroll in meets accreditation requirements; if it does not, USCIS will deny the request.

Additional Information: ACICS’ loss of federal accreditation authority means that degrees issued by ACICS-accredited colleges and universities on or after Aug. 19 will not be recognized by federal immigration authorities. Holders of advanced degrees from ACICS-accredited colleges and universities will not be eligible for the H-1B advanced degree exemption (the “master’s cap”). Additionally, ACICS-accredited colleges and universities will not be able to qualify for H-1B cap or fee exemptions as an institution of higher education.

BAL Analysis: Officials said they would provide notification letters with guidance for affected students if their schools’ accreditation is withdrawn. USCIS also encouraged students enrolled at ACICS-accredited schools to contact their Designated School Official (DSO) immediately for information about potential consequences for immigration status or benefits. More information is available here.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice Group. For additional information, please contact berryapplemanleiden@bal.com.

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