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USA: SEVP reveals new visa and vacation policies

During an advocacy day held for English USA members, US government agency, SEVP, informed universities that that they would no longer be able to issue I-20 visas for degree-seeking students on condition of a student improving their English level. They will have to reapply for a new I-20 upon completion of their English level; this is one of several policy adjustments..
November 7 2012
2 Min Read

International students studying an Intensive English Program (IEP) in the US must now study a full academic year (actually 26 weeks) before taking annual vacation, the federal government’s Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) announced last month. Universities were also told that they would no longer be able to issue I-20 visas for degree-seeking students on condition of a student improving their English level in the IEP; a move which may have serious repercussions on admissions procedures.

Educators learned of the potentially unpopular changes at the fifth annual American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) advocacy day, where they had intended to find some relief from waiting times of 12 months or longer for certification decisions – an issue on which SEVP did promise to act.

“Going into this our top priority was adjudication and recertification times,” said Patty Juza, vice president for advocacy at AAIEP. “But new things popped up in the session.”

“This was a shock to us”

During the meeting, educators learned that SEVP will start enforcing federal regulation which doesn’t allow conditional admission for university, common practice in the US, usually in the form of an I-20 being issued contingent on the student completing an IEP or obtaining a minimum IELTS score.

The new enforcement of old regulation means that once a student finishes their English course, they will have to apply for another I-20 for university – a step which AAIEP says complicates the admissions process – charging extra fees and requiring resubmission of financial documents.

“The change in allowing conditional admissions has nothing to do with legislation or accreditation; it’s just a new regulation that SEVP has come up with without asking people in the industry for advice,” said Juza. “This was a shock to us.”

Susanna Warner, SEVP analysis and operation center chief, also stated that IEP students now needed to attend one academic year – 26 consecutive weeks – before taking an annual vacation.

According to Juza, previous practices allowed for a difference in vacation policies at language schools and universities due to the academic breaks in the university schedule. She fears the change requiring long blocks of class time will cause students to burn out. “There are no breaks between terms in language schools, the new policy is not equitable to what students in a university would have to do.”

There was some relief, with SEVP promising to alleviate the systematic 12 to 14 month waiting times for recertification and adjudication of applications for the right to issue I-20s—described by Juza as a “chronic issue for English language programmes, universities, colleges and institutions”.

Once a student finishes an English course, they will have to apply for another I20 to attend the university

SEVP representative Rachel Canty confirmed that 14 new staff had been hired to help cut waiting times to 60-90 days and promised to work on the large current backlog of adjudications.

Juza welcomed the efforts but said SEVP had failed to consult with the sector on other issues. “In the past SEVP has asked for our guidance on this but there seems to be no acknowledgement of our advice in the policies they make.”

SEVP says it does communicate guidance and ask for feedback on new policies through the Study in the States portal, its Facebook page and Twitter account.

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