On December 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that it no longer recognizes the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. 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 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) optional practical training (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 extension. 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SEVP will provide guidance to affected students in notification letters, should their schools’ certification be withdrawn.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
- Depart 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 an SEVP-certified school or departed the United States. 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.
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to finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school selects to voluntarily withdraw its certification or is withdrawn by SEVP.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 timeframe, the student may remain at the school to complete their program of study.
English Language Study Programs
USCIS will issue requests for evidence (RFEs) to any individual who has filed Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, on or after December 12, 2016, requesting a change of status or reinstatement in order to attend an ACICS-accredited English language study program. Upon receiving an RFE, individuals will have an opportunity to provide evidence in response, such as documentation showing that the English language study program they are seeking to enroll in meets the accreditation requirements.
If the student does not submit a new Form I-20 from an accredited school, USCIS will deny a change of status or reinstatement request because the program of study is no longer accredited by an entity recognized by ED.
For more information about the loss of ACICS accreditation on English language study programs, see U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s page on ACICS Loss of Accreditation Recognition.