Late last year, the United States Department of Education ceased to recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. As the ACICS accredits over 200 institutes of higher education nationwide, that decision has big implications for thousands of students. But for students attending those schools on F-1 student visas, the loss of accreditation affects not only their studies, but also their ability to stay in the United States.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), two types of students are affected immediately by this determination:
- Students enrolled in English study programs at institutions accredited by ACICS, as the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act requires the program to be accredited.
- F-1 students who hold degrees from ACICS-accredited institutions and are now applying for 24-month science, technology, engineering and mathematics optional practical training (STEM OPT) extensions.
Students affected by this change have an 18-month grace period (which began on December 12, 2016) to transfer to a new, accredited program to complete their program of study until the session end date listed on their Form I-20, or leave the United States.
Steps to take if your school is affected by this change
For both English Language Study students and STEM OPT extension students, the key date is December 12, 2016 - the day the Department of Education made the determination that ACICS was no longer recognized as an accrediting agency.
- English Language Study students attending ACICS-accredited programs who have filed a Form I-539 on or after December 12 will need to respond to a request for evidence (RFE) issued by USCIS and provide documentation that they are seeking to enroll in a program that meets the accreditation requirements.
- F-1 students applying for a STEM OPT extension need a degree from an accredited educational institution at the time they file the application for the STEM OPT program. Students with a Form I-20 with a recommendation prior to December 12, 2016 are not affected by the accreditation change. However, those applying on or after December 12, 2016 will be denied, and will have 60 days to either leave the United States or enroll in a course of study at an accredited school.
In short, if you are a current student, prospective student or recent graduate of an institution that has lost accreditation, you may have legal options - but you need to act quickly. Important deadlines must be met to change your immigration status or enroll at an accredited school. A single missed deadline or error filing a form could have massive implications for your future.
That's why we strongly recommend that you consult an immigration attorney with experience handling F-1 student visa cases. A dedicated and committed lawyer from Chad Jones Law, PC can help you navigate this complex process and fight for your right to stay in the United States to complete your studies.