DOE Response to MLF Attorneys on Validity of Degree Issued Prior to University’s Loss of Accreditation29 Dec 2016
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) generally will only recognize a U.S. degree that is issued by an accredited institution. Moreover, the accreditation must be granted by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). How is a degree viewed, however, if the accredited school that issued it subsequently loses its accreditation? The USCIS does not appear to have a clear or consistent policy in this regard. Therefore, the Murthy Law Firm reached out to the DOE to determine whether a degree is still considered accredited if, after it is issued, the issuing school loses its accreditation.
Importance of Accreditation Under Immigration Law
Having an accredited degree is a key requirement for a number of U.S. immigration benefits. The importance of accreditation from an immigration law perspective often arises when the foreign national is trying to qualify for a STEM OPT extension, an H1B position, or an employment-based, second or third (EB2 or EB3) preference position. Accreditation can also be a factor in other areas of immigration law, such as F-1 English language training programs and certain J-1 programs.
Issue Brought to Forefront by DOE Actions Against ACICS
The DOE recently terminated its recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) as a nationally recognized accrediting agency. In turn, the institutions that had been accredited solely by the ACICS, including a number of universities with large foreign national student populations, are now no longer considered accredited, effective September 22, 2016.
Murthy Law Firm Correspondence with DOE
Earlier this week, the Murthy Law Firm contacted the DOE to pose the following question:
If, prior to September 22, 2016, a person graduated from an ACICS-accredited university, would that person still be considered to have graduated from an accredited university? Or, does the loss of accreditation apply retroactively?
The DOE responded as follows:
To answer your question, yes, a student who graduated prior to Sept 22, 2016 would have an accredited degree. When an accreditation agency closes, it does not retroactive remove or change the status of previous completed degrees.
USCIS Interpretation Still Unclear
Under this interpretation by the DOE, it seems clear that the USCIS should still accept a degree issued by one of the affected institutions, as long as it was awarded prior to September 22, 2016. However, the USCIS has not yet clarified its position on this matter. The Murthy Law Firm will continue to track this matter closely and will provide updates on MurthyDotCom when any new information is provided.
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