STEM OPT Eligibility Unlikely Following School’s Loss of Accreditation30 Jan 2017
An F-1 student who is approved for optional practical training (OPT) and has a qualifying degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) field, from an accredited university typically is eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension following completion of the initial 12-month OPT period. However, what happens to eligibility for a STEM OPT extension if a university loses its accreditation after the student graduates? Unfortunately, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) appears to be taking the position that these degrees cannot be used to apply for the STEM OPT extension benefit.
Issue Brought to Forefront by DOE Actions Against ACICS
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced on December 12, 2016 that it was terminating 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 are now no longer considered accredited.
Regulation Requires Accreditation at Time of Application
According to the STEM OPT regulation, in order to qualify, the foreign national’s STEM degree must be “… from a U.S. educational institution accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education at the time of application.” Accordingly, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has indicated that any student with a STEM degree from a school that was solely accredited by ACICS will not be eligible for a STEM OPT extension if the application is submitted after the school’s loss of accreditation.
In proposing the STEM OPT rule, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is the parent agency of the USCIS, noted that “… while accreditation may impose certain burdens, DHS does not expect the accreditation requirement to have broad impact on STEM OPT students.” So, it certainly appears that the DHS did not contemplate the present scenario in drafting the regulation. There are other ways the STEM OPT regulation could be interpreted by the USCIS that would provide relief to the affected students. But, for the time being, it appears that immigration officials are reluctant to make any such accommodations.
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