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South Africa: visa settlement ‘defining moment’ for ESL industry

A settlement has been reached between the South African government and Education South Africa following court proceedings, after last year’s worrying declines in ESL enrolments due to a visa policy impasse, the organisation announced today.

The EFL sector in South Africa saw enrolments drop by 37% between 2014 and 2015, largely in part due to providers unable to issue student visas. Photo: Damien du Toit

"We look forward to working with our partners in government over the coming months"

EduSA came to an amicable settlement with the Departments of Home Affairs and Higher Education & Training, after a court case on November 8 that allows a ministerial exemption for students who are studying at one of EduSA’s 22 member schools to be issued visas to study for up to 18 months.

Current regulations only allow for study visas to be issued to students enrolling at ‘learning institutions’, but EduSA’s member schools did not meet the requirements of this definition.

“This will significantly ease the entry of foreign students into our country, which has immense economic benefits”

“This marks a defining moment in our industry, as it allows us to grow our meagre 1% share of the multi-billion dollar global EFL market,” said association chairman, Johannes Kraus.

It was also decided that EduSA members will now undergo an accreditation process to meet the requirements defining a ‘learning institute’.

In the meantime, foreigners who are studying at legitimate institutions that don’t fall within that definition may study on visitor visas, the director-general of immigration explained in his answering affidavit.

“The special dispensation is valid for the full duration of the accreditation process until such time that EduSA members meet the ‘learning institute’ definition requirements,” said Kraus.

Private and public universities, further education colleges and primary and secondary schools are among the education providers defined as ‘learning institutes’.

But the current criteria is not specific to the EFL sector, said Torrique Borges, vice-chair and marketing at EduSA.

The provisional registration will basically be our application of intention to offer a qualification on the National Qualifications Framework,” he told The PIE News.

“Should there be no available qualification which we can offer, we would have to go through the process of creating one, but at least we have the special dispensation in place while embarking on that process.”

According to Stefanie de Saude, immigration law specialist, representing EduSA, this is the first time clarity has been issued for students studying on visitor visas.

“This marks a defining moment in our industry”

“This will significantly ease the entry of foreign students into our country, which has immense economic benefits.”

Education South Africa resorted to legal action after student visa criteria failed to recognise EFL schools as ‘learning institutions’, resulting in students not being granted visas for study.

This came after regulatory changes two years ago which caused confusion over whether or not student visas incorporated English language learning.

The EFL sector in South Africa also saw enrolments drop by 37% between 2014 and 2015, despite two previous years of growth, primarily due to the visa policy impasse.

Kraus called the recent settlement “tremendous news”.

“We look forward to working with our partners in government over the coming months and thank them for coming to the party in such commendable fashion,” he said.

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