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USA: IEPs concerned by new SEVP policies

US intensive English programmes (IEPs) are to raise concerns about new policy proposals from the US Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) for university pathway programmes, warning that they will complicate the admissions process and impact programme delivery.

EnglishUSA warns that they will complicate the admissions process and impact programme delivery

The public has until June 7 to comment on the policies, which are designed to clarify immigration regulations for IEPs and “bridge” programmes – university based courses that prepare international students for US degree programmes. The policies cover areas such as conditional admission, certification of programmes and student visa issuance.

However, EnglishUSA (previously known as American Association of Intensive English Programs) has confirmed it is preparing a formal response to the draft policies.

“SEVP is starting to create educational policy, rather than immigration regulation”

One of its main concerns surrounds new policy on Form I-20s, the visa allowing entry to the US for academic and language students. SEVP’s guidance states: “A student must meet all standards for admission before issuance of the Form I-20. A conditionally admitted student does not meet all standard for admission therefore a DSO [designated school official] cannot issue a Form I-20 to a conditionally admitted a student.”

EnglishUSA believes the policy, which was first floated last October, complicates the admissions process by charging extra fees and requiring students to resubmit their financial documents. Patti Juza, immediate past vice-president for advocacy at English USA, said that the admissions criteria in the draft required revision.

“In order to comply with the new guidance and remain competitive, will colleges and universities alter their admissions criteria? No longer require high school diplomas for undergraduate admission, or drop English language requirements for graduate programmes?” she said in an email to The PIE News.

The draft also lays out general guidelines for university-based bridge programmes. It calls for all schools to be SEVP-certified and for all academic coursework to count towards the graduation requirements of a degree programme at the university.

“SEVP recognises that the purpose of these programmes is to provide a pathway to another programme of study,” the draft states, adding that a “discretionary threshold of one year for the expected length of this programme type” has been instituted. Longer bridge programmes may be approved after additional information is provided, it adds.

However, English USA is concerned difficulties will arise for students who need more than one year of pre-university preparation, and that “SEVP is starting to create educational policy, rather than immigration regulation”.

“We do want to issue visas; we don’t want to refuse them”

SEVP was launched under the US Homeland Security Department and works closely with the US State Department to monitor all international students and visitors who come to the USA. Officials were available for questioning during a “Hot Topics in SEVIS and Visas for Intensive English Programs” seminar at the NAFSA conference in St Louis last week. Educators were left disappointed when they admitted that they had not read the published draft policy before the meeting.

“Many of us would like to provide substantive, thoughtful feedback to the draft guidance. Being able to ask clarification questions during the session would have assisted us in providing better quality responses to SEVP’s request [for comment],” said Juza.

Speaking on behalf of the US State Department, Nancy McCarthy tried to reassure delegates, citing F1 (full time) student visa figures from September 2012 were up to 4,486, 717 from 4,470,385 in 2011 and 385, 210 in 2010. “We do want to issue visas; we don’t want to refuse them,” she added.

Update: SEVP has extended the feedback period to June 14, 2013 in which the public can provide feedback through the Study in the States website.

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