Impact of the Termination of ACICS Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) recently terminated recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency on August 19, 2022. This decision of termination of ACICS accreditation has significant implications for certain foreign nationals, particularly those who are seeking to enroll in an English language study program at an ACICS-accredited school, those applying for a STEM OPT extension, and certain beneficiaries of H-1B and I-140 immigrant petitions.

The background of this decision dates back to 2016, when the DOE under the Obama Administration found ACICS to be noncompliant, resulting in the agency losing its recognition as an accrediting agency. In 2018, the Trump Administration reversed this decision, and the DOE again deemed ACICS a nationally recognized accrediting agency. However, under the Biden Administration, the DOE once again found that ACICS was failing to comply with federal recognition criteria, leading to the agency losing its status as a nationally recognized accrediting agency, effective August 19, 2022.

One of the requirements for an F-1 student to attend an English language study program is that the program must be accredited. If a program is solely accredited by ACICS, it is no longer permitted to enroll F-1 students. Students already enrolled in such a program are permitted to complete the current session, but will not be granted any extensions based on that program. Those with a pending I-539 application to reinstate their status or to change their status to F-1, will receive a request for evidence (RFE) to submit evidence that the program is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.

For the STEM OPT extension, if a student did not obtain a degree from an accredited school, the USCIS will deny the application. Fortunately, this decision by the DOE does not impact a foreign national who already has been approved for STEM OPT or who applied for an OPT extension based on an I-20 dated August 18, 2022 or earlier.

When it comes to the H-1B master’s cap, one of the requirements is that the foreign national must have a master’s (or higher) degree from an accredited U.S. university. If the individual graduated from an ACICS-accredited school prior to August 19, 2022, it still may be possible to use that degree to qualify for the master’s cap. If, however, the F-1 student graduated on or after August 19, 2022, that degree would not be considered a qualifying degree for the master’s cap. Similarly, a degree from an ACICS-accredited school cannot be used to qualify for an H-1B position, or for a professional or advanced degree position listed in an I-140 petition, unless the degree was issued before August 19, 2022.

It is important to note that as of August 2022, the ACICS was serving as an accrediting agency for a small number of schools in the United States. Therefore, this decision of termination of ACICS accreditation by the DOE will directly impact only a relatively small number of foreign nationals.