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Confucius Institute in US immigration slip-up

An administrative mistake by the US State Department that would have forced Chinese teachers on American campuses to leave the country by June has been reversed. The directive, originally reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education on May 17, would have affected up to 51 teachers at state-backed Confucius Institute language schools and prompted a huge backlash on Chinese media.

The directive would have led to the deportation of 51 teachers at Confucius Institutes in the US

“We became aware that this wasn’t just one case or two cases but that there was a mess up in the processing in general, so we need to fix that,” said Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokesperson. “The original directive that we issued a couple of days ago was frankly sloppy and incomplete.”

The directive, communicated to universities in a memo last week, focused on rules related to J-1 visas, which are given to people participating in work- and study-based exchange programs.

It noted that while visitors can come to the US as “teachers” or “professors/research scholars”, foreign professors, academics and students at university level are prohibited from teaching in public or private schools at the pre-college level.

“The original directive that we issued a couple of days ago was frankly sloppy and incomplete”

In addition to teaching Mandarin, many Confucius Institutes offer classes and conduct research in specific areas, like traditional Chinese medicine or Chinese art and design. Often, they also provide language instruction and Chinese cultural programmes for the public in school settings thus violating the J-1 visa restrictions.

The directive sparked criticism from people within the institution and online with Chinese state media reacting swiftly. “This absurd measure reflects illogical thinking and an immature mentality,” said an editorial by the state-run People’s Daily. “Finding scapegoats, witch hunting and shifting focuses are not the right ways to do things.”

Over 500,000 posts on the topic were left on China’s most popular microblogging website, Sina Weibo, some people condemning the decision, others agreeing with it.

“It is aimed at China by the US government”

“No matter they truly violated rules or not, what cannot be denied is it is aimed at China by the US government,” said one user.

The institutes have caught flack from critics in the US and elsewhere for limiting discussion of politically sensitive topics like Tibet and the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protestors. However, they are popular among cash-strapped US universities looking to take advantage of subsidised instruction in Mandarin – an increasingly popular language.

After the about face, the Beijing headquarters of the Office of Chinese Language Council International, known as Hanban, said the visa issue appeared to be resolved.

“No need for criticism now that our teachers and volunteers can continue their normal work, and students and parents will not be affected,” Hanban spokeswoman Li Lizhen said. “Let’s show some friendship.”

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