SEVP Issues Update on Status of SEVP-Certified Schools Accredited by ACICS

 

Introduction

The United States Immigration and Custom Enforcement's (ICE's) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has issued a new document regarding the effects of its decision to no longer recognize the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as an accrediting agency. SEVP ceased recognizing the ACICS as an accrediting agency after due to the Department of Education no longer recognizing the ACICS as of December 12, 2016. Additionally, SEVP published notices for students and institutions affected by this change. In this article, we will review the document and the notices.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)

To learn more about how the withdrawal of recognition of ACICS affects students, please see the full article we wrote on the issue in December [see article].

Update on ACICS Loss of Accreditation Recognition

The SEVP released a notice titled “ACICS Loss of Accreditation Recognition” [link].

Affected Institutions

On March 15, 2017, the SEVP began issuing notices and requests to SEVP-certified schools that had been accredited by the ACICS but that had failed to report their loss of Department of Education-recognized accreditation to SEVP in compliance with the requirements found in 8 C.F.R. 214.3(g)(2).

The document reminds all institutions certified by SEVP that they must update the Form I-17, Petition for Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student, to ensure that it accurately reflects the school's operating status. This is required whether an affected school has been accredited by a new approved accreditor or, alternatively, presents evidence in lieu of accreditation to maintain its SEVP certification.

Affected schools may respond to a notice and request issued by SEVP in one of the three following ways:

  1. Provide evidence of accreditation by a new Department of Education-recognized accrediting body;
  2. Provide evidence in lieu of accreditation (English as Second Language (ESL) schools and programs must have accreditation, however); or
  3. Voluntarily withdraw from participation in SEVP.

Affected Students

SEVP reminded F1 and M1 students that it will not take action on students' Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) records at ACICS-accredited schools for 18 months starting on December 12, 2016, if the school in which they are enrolled is withdrawn or chooses to voluntarily withdraw from SEVP certification. If the affected school demonstrates continued eligibility for SEVP certification, students at the school may continue to be enrolled in those programs of studies.

If an ACICS-accredited school voluntarily withdraws from SEVP certification or otherwise loses SEVP certification, international students may use the 18-month period to:

  1. Finish the program of study listed on their Form I-20 as long as it does not exceed the 18 month allowance;
  2. Transfer to a new SEVP-certified program; or
  3. Depart the United States.

After the 18-month period, SEVP will terminate the SEVIS record of any active F1 or M1 student at a school that lost its SEVP certification or who is in a program of study no longer eligible for SEVP certification, if such student has not transferred to a SEVP-certified school or departed the United States.

SEVP notes that the guidance applies to all F1 and M1 students and is valid for ESL students as well.

Note on STEM OPT and Other Benefits

SEVP reminds F1 students at ACICS-accredited schools who wish to participate in the STEM OPT extension that, in order to qualify for the STEM OPT extension, “their degree must be from an SEVP-certified school that is accredited by an accredited agency recognized by the [Department of Education], at the time they submit their application to [the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)].”

Please see our full article on STEM OPT extensions to learn more [see article].

SEVIS Message for Affected Students

On March 24, 2017, SEVP issued a message titled “Students at ACICS-Accredited Schools: Contact Your DSO” [link].

The message instructs an F1 or M1 student enrolled at a SEVP-certified school that is accredited by the ACICS to contact his or her designated school official (DSO) immediately. By doing so, the student will ascertain the school's situation going forward regarding its SEVIS certification.

SEVP explains that it “will not take any immediate action on [affected F1 and M1 students'] Student and Exchange Information System (SEVIS) record.” If an institution's SEVP certification is ultimately withdrawn, SEVP will provide affected students with a grace period to work with their DSO to determine how best to proceed. However, SEVP makes clear that students must be in touch with their DSO “in order to understand the time line for this grace period.”

SEVIS Message for Affected Institutions

On April 10, 2017, SEVP released a notice titled “Important Message for ACICS-Accredited Schools” [link].

Under the Federal regulations, SEVP-certified institutions are required to report any material changes (changes that would bear on certification) within 21 days of the change. If an institution fails to notify SEVP of a material change, it may have its SEVP certification withdrawn. Changes are filed on the Form I-17.

SEVP instructs affected schools to “now respond in a timely and thorough manner to the notice or request SEVP has issued.”

Conclusion

It is important for students at SEVP certified institutions accredited by the ACICS to be in touch with their DSO. The DSO will advise students on the status of the school's SEVP certification going forward.

If a student is at an institution that has foregone or will forego its SEVP certification, the student should make plans with his or her DSO concerning how to proceed in the 18-month period that began on December 12, 2016. It is important for such F1 and M1 students to remember that they must still follow all of the rules of F1 or M1 status (whichever is applicable) while in the United States on such status. Affected students may also consult with an experienced immigration attorney for further guidance, including issues such as eligibility for STEM OPT extensions, change of status, or other issues.