If the institution does not, SEVP is telling the sector that the IEP may not be eligible to enrol international students until they gain such certification, which could take well over a year.
Many university-governed language schools allege new accreditation law is being interpreted wrongly by the government. However, SEVP has told The PIE News it has made no such mistake.
The issue concerns the Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act, which required all English language schools in the USA to be accredited, or to have applied for accreditation, by a government-approved accreditation agency by December 2011 to continue enrolling overseas students (see background article here).
Until a month ago, schools governed by universities believed they were exempt from the process
Until a month ago, schools governed by universities believed they were exempt from the process as they were covered by their institution’s accreditation. However, a SEVP bulletin sent April 20 to schools stated the opposite: that they were indeed subject to the accreditation, and could receive ad hoc “out of cycle reviews”, requiring them to submit evidence to SEVP within 30 days or lose their right to recruit international students.
The memo has caused panic among providers, given the cut-off date to apply for accreditation has long passed. Furthermore, critics say that SEVP has not explained what evidence might be required for its out of cycle review.
A university-governed provider told The PIE News under condition of anonymity: “It is very bothersome… So many universities have just assumed that we didn’t need that accreditation, and so we didn’t seek it under any timeline. And then to be given a memo telling us we should have started seven months ago is confusing.”
He added: “We’re actually considered a department in the university, so we just assumed that we fell under the university’s accreditation, and that’s what we’ve been told for years.”
Hitting back, international education body NAFSA wrote a memo to SEVP last month, setting out the legal case for university governed programmes and calling on the agency to “reassess its approach to applying the law and better communicate its policies”. The American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) has said it is reaching out to the senators who originally sponsored the bill.
“We just assumed that we fell under the university’s accreditation”
However, in an email to The PIE News, Gillian M. Christensen, deputy press secretary at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said SEVP was acting appropriately and that “final interpretation of the act was in fact based on language NAFSA cites in their memorandum”.
She explained that SEVP was investigating whether a university’s “umbrella” accreditation covered its ESL language training programme.
“Any schools with regionally or nationally recognised accreditation whose accreditor reports to SEVP that it does not accredit ESL language training programs, or who states that they will have to review and accredit the ESL training program before it will be included in the school’s accreditation portfolio, will be asked to remove that programme of study from the list of programs for which the school is certified to [enrol] international students until such time as the program does attain accreditation,” she said.
This would mean they could not recruit international students for the time it takes to become accredited – around one and a half to two years.
He had been told by his university to “keep his head down” to avoid attracting SEVP’s attention
Christensen conceded that SEVP was unaware of the confusion about the legislation until it had received NAFSA’s memo but said it did not plan to change its approach. As for out of cycle reviews, she said SEVP would “clearly communicate” what evidence was required to providers and gave details of what could be expected (listed below).
Meanwhile, providers are trying to adjust as best they can. The provider who spoke to The PIE News admitted he had begun an accreditation process as a back-up and had been told by his university to “keep his head down” in the meantime.
SEVP will take part in a session on visas for English programmes at the NAFSA conference in Houston, May 27-June 1, where the issue is expected to take centre stage.
SEVP Evidence required of university-governed providers for an “out of cycle review”
Combined schools will be asked to 1) provide documentation from their accreditor that their ESL training program of study is included in the overall accreditation that the school has received from its regionally or nationally recognized accreditor; 2) evidence that the ESL program of study is university governed, in the form of a letter from the school president which affirms that the ESL program of study is wholly owned, operated, etc… by the school itself; and 3) if the school’s ESL program of study is not university governed, the school will be required to provide documentation to SEVP which describes the contractual relationship between the two entities, i.e., who collects the tuition, who provides the instruction, etc..
According to SEVP, final interpretation of the act was “in fact based on language NAFSA cites in their memorandum below as a pertinent part of the Act”:
[Quote from NAFSA Memo on Application of the IEP Accreditation Law]
(2) TEMPORARY EXCEPTION.-
(A) IN GENERAL.- Notwithstanding section 101(a)(15)(F)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by subsection (a), during the 3-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act, an alien seeking to enter the United States to pursue a course of study at a language training program that has been certified by the Secretary of Homeland Security and has not been accredited or denied accreditation by an entity described in section 101(a)(52) of such Act may be granted a nonimmigrant visa under such section 101(a)(15)(F)(i).
(B) ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENT.- An alien may not be granted a nonimmigrant visa under subparagraph (A) if the sponsoring institution of the language training program to which the alien seeks to enroll does not–
(i) submit an application for the accreditation of such program to a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education within 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act; and
(ii) comply with the applicable accrediting requirements of such agency.]
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It boggles the mind that ICE would move forward on this given the massive negative reaction to it from virtually all the stakeholders. By what calculation does SEVP believe that any aspect of the national interest is advanced by making it impossible for reputable, accredited educational institutions to enroll internatioanl students?
An additional issue that is not being addressed is the problem that the new law makes it almost impossible for a new language school to start here in the U.S. Accreditation processes require that you be operating for 2-3 years in order to become accredited. However, if you cannot issue I-20s, you cannot take in students. This is a crippling catch-22 that will prohibit new language schools from opening.