How the New Accreditation Terms Affect the H-1B Master's Cap

The H-1B and certain other categories of visas are designed to bring skilled workers into the United States to fill specialty job positions. However, these workers must meet strict requirements, such as a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university. Those applying for an advanced degree exemption typically have a bachelor’s and a master’s or beyond that must qualify as accredited. Hopeful H-1B petitioners need to verify that their institutions are from an accrediting agency, but recent changes in the US Department of Education have dropped an important one. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is no longer recognized, meaning substantial impacts for H-1B and certain F-1 student visa holders.

F-1 Student Visa Applicant Changes

Per USCIS, the new changes impact any applicants taking courses that are required to meet the terms of the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act. This change includes those in the English language study program and those applying for 24-month STEM optional practical training extensions. 

To qualify for this extension, government regulations stipulate that OPT students must have a degree from an accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified institution. That school must have an accreditation active when the application is submitted; many of these schools fall under the ACICS.

USICS will send notification letters to students impacted by this change, letting them know their attending school's certification is no longer valid. Those students must contact their DSOs to determine how the accreditation change impacts their immigration status and benefits.

We do know that students will be allowed to finish the sessions they’re currently in if the school withdraws voluntarily or by the SEVP. Additionally, the school has the option to obtain accreditation through a Department of Education-recognized agency within the given timeframe.

Changing Status for OPT Visa Holders

What does this mean for you? Well, if you are currently attending an ACICS-accredited English language study program as part of your master’s cap H-1B or OPT visa and filed Form I-539, USCIS will be sending you a request for evidence (RFE). This will request that you change your status or reinstatement and provide proof that your English language study program meets accreditation through an accepted agency.

If the STEM degree that you submitted with your STEM OPT extension request was from a college or university accredited by ACICS and your DSO recommendation on Form I-20 was on or after August 19, 2022, your request will be denied. You’ll need to submit evidence that you are transferring to an approved institution to complete your OPT extension.

Master’s Cap Applicant Changes

OPT visa holders can submit evidence that they’re trying to switch to an accredited agency-backed institution. But if your college or university was ACICS-accredited and your degree was conferred on or after August 19, 2022, it won’t qualify as a US degree in the H-1B advanced degree master’s cap.

If you already have an H-1B visa and file an I-140 petition for your professional classification, your educational credentials are an integral part of the terms. Losing the accreditation after the designated August 19, 2022, date will affect your H-1B visa. Note that if your degree was conferred prior to that date, you could use it to qualify for the master’s cap under the advanced degree provided the other requirements are met, as well.

The accreditation recognition loss also impacts petitioners claiming the H-1B cap or ACWIA fee exemption. Those working or planning to work at these universities and colleges must seek employment elsewhere, as these institutions are no longer recognized as accredited or in pre-accreditation status.

What’s Next?

At Visa2US, we understand that this accreditation change is a serious problem for many H-1B visa holders and petitioners. You paid for that college degree, assuming the institution would meet the accreditation status you needed to further your career, and now, those years and that money seem to be wasted. 

However, don’t give up yet. Contact our immigration experts today to see how you may be able to continue to work and live in the US or obtain a visa in other ways. AtVisa2US, our legal professionals are available 24/7 to answer your questions and reduce the damage from this unexpected change.

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H-1B Visa

H-1B Visa

H-1B visa is used by businesses and organizations in the United States to employ foreign nationals with the preferred qualifications, knowledge, and expertise in a role.

I-485 Adjustment of Status

I-485 Adjustment of Status

Submit a form I-485 application to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

National Interest Waiver (NIW)

National Interest Waiver (NIW)

An applicant must either hold an advanced degree or have an exceptional ability in their field that would substantially benefit the U.S. to be qualified.