Apr 21, 2017

Date: 04/21/2017

Dear Client,

Alert: Impact of the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to no longer recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency.

On December 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that it no longer recognizes ACICS as an accrediting agency. This determination immediately affects two (2) immigration-related programs:

24 Month STEM OPT Extension Program:

F-1 students applying for a 24-month STEM OPT extension are required to have a degree from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school as the basis of their application. The school must be accredited at the time of the application – this is the date of the Designated School Official’s (DSO) recommendation on Form I-20.

Students enrolled at an ACICS-accredited school should contact their DSOs immediately to better understand if and how the loss of recognized accreditation will impact the F-1 student’s status and related STEM OPT extension application. 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-1 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-1 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to finish their current session if the ACICS-accredited school selects to voluntarily withdraw its certification or is withdrawn by SEVP.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.

F-1 students wishing to participate in the STEM OPT extension must have a degree from an ED-recognized accredited U.S. educational institution at the time they file their STEM OPT application. As noted above, USCIS considers the filing of the application to be the date of the DSO’s recommendation on the Form I-20. Therefore,

USCIS will issue a denial to any F-1 student filing a Form I-765 STEM OPT extension if:

• The STEM degree that is the basis for the STEM OPT extension was obtained from a college or university that was accredited by ACICS; AND

• The DSO’s recommendation for a STEM OPT extension, as indicated on Form I-20, is dated on or after December 12, 2016 (i.e., the date on which ACICS ceased to be recognized as an accrediting agency).

To summarize, if a STEM OPT extension applicant, with a degree obtained from a university accredited by ACICS, applies for the extension with a Form I-20 that is dated after December 12, 2016, the application will be denied. Students who receive a denial will have 60 days to prepare for departure from the United States, transfer to a different school, or to begin a new course of study at an accredited, SEVP-certified school.

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 a 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.,