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NAFSA 2012 urges US immigration reform

The annual US mega-conference focusing on international education, that of NAFSA, Association of International Educators, was held last week in Houston, TX and the association used the platform to push for US immigration reform – encouraging many among its impressive delegate list, some 8,400, to write a letter to President Obama.

Around 400 exhibitors were keen to engage with delegates and expand opportunitiesAround 400 exhibitors were keen to engage with delegates and expand opportunities

Another hot topic this year was the issue of accreditation for on-campus IEPs

Three main areas of reform urged are in relation to visa access, sensible border enforcement and the “undocumented question”, relating to US residents who entered illegally. The NAFSA Policy Statement details: “We can’t deport 11 million people. Yet two successive administrations have sought to defuse anti-immigrant sentiment through high-profile deportation policies.”

With compelling plenary sessions about the value and importance of international education delivered by Robert Gates, Former US Secretary of Defense and CIA Chief; Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee; and US travel guru, Rick Steves, many were motivated to take up the challenge set by Nafsa and sign up to the Connecting Our World agenda during the conference.

NAFSA called on its members to write to Obama

Almost 1,000 delegates signed up, and according to Ursula Oaks, Senior Director of Media Relations, “We believe many people were inspired by Leymah Gbowee’s speech and her call for everyone to take action on immigration reform.” Gbowee is a renowned Liberian peace activist whose work is documented in a book and on screen in the film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

As well as a focus on pushing US policy, the annual conference was the typical scheduling overload of seminars, sessions, member interest group meetings and networking receptions. The sheer scale of business propositions, discussion topics and networking opportunities can throw even the most seasoned international educator.

While the majority of attendees represesnted US HE institutions, the world of international education was well represented, and delegates came from 95 countries. At least 400 exhibitors represented national, institutional or commercial propositions.

Some familiar fixtures, such as a session on how education agencies fit into distribution in the US, and the legendary BMI Brazil party, were marked on The PIE’s programme.

Another hot topic this year was the issue of accreditation for on-campus IEPs, two sessions trying to unpick new legislation made some progress in spelling out what conforming to the new law will mean; and there was significant presence from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this year.

Live music and the chance to meet thousands of colleagues outdoors!

Houston was hot and humid, so most activity took place in the confines of the air-conditioned George R Brown Convention Center and the neighbouring Hilton Hotel. However, an opening celebration was held on Discovery Green which had those not accustomed to the heat searching for the shade at 6pm!

Next year, the annual conference, a major business event on the international education calendar, will be held in St Louis, Missouri.

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