Recently, the Department of Education announced that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS, would lose its status as a recognized accreditation agency. For the purposes of international students participating in Student and Exchange Visitor Programs (“SEVP”), accreditation is relevant to any 24-month optional practical training extensions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“24-month OPT STEM extension”).
Does this affect me if I am participating in a 12-month OPT program?
No, the changes in the accreditation should not impact your ability to participate in a normal period of OPT. However, it does impact students at schools without proper accreditation who are participating in a 24-month OPT STEM extension.
Does this affect me if I am already on an approved 17-month or 24-month OPT STEM extension?
ICE has not given clear indication on how it intends to treat participants in the legacy 17-month OPT STEM extension. Since the 17-month OPT STEM extensions are controlled by the old rules, which are less stringent, you will probably not need to take any further action if you are participating in a 17-month OPT STEM extension and your participating school lost accreditation with ACICS.
With regard to students with already approved participation in the new 24-month OPT STEM extension program, ICE specifically mentions that the university must have been accredited by a Department of Education-approved accrediting agency at the time the STEM OPT application was filed. This indicates that as long as your application was received before December 12th, then this should not pose a problem.
What if I am planning to apply for my 24-month OPT STEM extension?
Check with your school’s international student office to see if they have plans to replace their ACICS accreditation, as well as continue participation in SEVP. If your university is not accredited and you wish to apply for a STEM extension, then you will need to transfer to a different school that is accredited.
Please be aware that if you file a new STEM extension and base it off of a previous degree, then both the school recommending STEM OPT as well as the school where your STEM degree was earned must be accredited by an agency recognized by the Department of Education. In other words, if you transfer to a new school with proper accreditation, but attempt to base your STEM extension on a degree earned at a school without proper accreditation, then will not receive an approval.
What are some of the schools affected by this change?
Several universities are only accredited by the ACICS, meaning that such universities may be unable to participate in 24-month OPT STEM extensions.
American College of Commerce and Technology
American National University
Colorado Heights University
Northwestern Polytechnic University
Schiller International University
Silicon Valley University
University of North America
Virginia International University
*Herguan University’s SEVP has been revoked entirely.