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January 2002 issue

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Visa reforms likely in the USA

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who proposed a six-month moratorium on US student visa issuance in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the USA, has backed away from her proposal, removing the bleak prospect of a six-month ban on student visa issuance. However, the pressure remains on the US education industry to work with the government in devising stricter immigration procedures as soon as possible.
Last year, David Ward, President of the American Council on Education, wrote to Senator Feinstein and later gave testimony before the Senate subcommittee on technology, terrorism and government information. Representing many US education associations, Ward outlined proposals for reforming the immigration system – including the rapid implementation of the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) tracking scheme - which, he argued, would make it unnecessary for 'more far-reaching actions that, at a minimum, would have serious consequences for' our nation's colleges and universities and our economy'.
Reneging on her original stance on the student visa issue, Feinstein allegedly commented that the moratorium would not be necessary if institutions work with the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) to better monitor foreign students. Ward suggested that institutions supply electronic updates of student enrolment to the INS within 30 days of each academic term's deadline; report the non-appearance of students; and designate a member of staff as a liaison for the INS. Other proposals included a recommendation that the INS informs institutions of a student's entry into the country using an I-20 form issued by them.
A new system was also suggested in which schools no longer issue the I-20 forms required by a student to gain a visa from their local consulate. Ward told the subcommittee, 'We understand your concern about the possibility that international students may receive more than one I-20 form if they apply to and are admitted by multiple colleges.' Instead, the system suggested would see institutions sending I-20 forms direct to a US consulate.
The main thrust of Ward's suggestions for improving student visa security in the longer term, however, centred on SEVP. 'We believe that the single most important step in improving our ability to monitor international students and work with federal authorities will come from the prompt implementation of [SEVP],' he said. He called for federal funding to get the project up and running, and noted that James W Ziglar, Commissioner of the INS, testified that the agency had been unable to develop the SEVP system without the student fees which are intended to fund it.
US intensive English language programme associations, AAIEP and UCIEP, issued a joint statement supporting these points, and called on Congress to 'fully fund both the research, development and operating costs... as part of the US$40 billion emergency supplemental appropriation'.
However, Feinstein said that student fees would also have to be collected to fund the scheme, despite the fact that she had asked the President for emergency federal funds of US$32 million to speed up SEVP's development. Fellow sub-committee member, Senator Kyl, added, '[International] students and universities have to bear part of the expenses. I don't think it's too much of a sacrifice [for institutions] to help us enforce the laws [they] benefit from.'
Ward, in his proposals, called for sufficient funding for SEVP and an increase in the budget for consular affairs at the Department of State to allow for additional staffing and better facilities where necessary. Many in the industry regard current student visa procedures as out of date. Renovation and additional funding - to allow for the INS to check that students leave when their visas expire, for example - would be welcomed. Allan Goodman, President of the Institute of International Education, commented, 'There is no question' everyone thinks the system needs to be fixed.'
Many individual schools also share this viewpoint, although there are still some fears in the industry that extensive background checks, for example, or mis-management of the scheme, will deter students.
Foreign students already in the USA were said to be broadly supportive of any tightening of the visa procedures, according to the San Jose Mercury News. 'It's good for the country,' said Siritorn Sattapant, a student from Thailand studying at San Francisco State University. 'Maybe it will be less good for me. But if [I am not disturbed] too much, I think it will be ok.'


Moves to improve languages in China and Taiwan

The pressure on Asian students to speak and understand foreign languages looks likely to increase in China and Taiwan as colleges and universities in the countries introduce or improve proficiency tests for students.
From this year, all Chinese postgraduate students will have to undertake listening and speaking examinations in English, Russian and Japanese, according to China Education Daily, to complement the existing language tests. The Ministry of Education enacted the new regulation in July last year to eliminate the problem of 'dumb English' and promote listening and speaking proficiency. From 2003, scores from the listening and speaking components will count towards the final language exam grade, although this year, the exam score will just be used as a reference when making admissions decisions.
China Daily reported that some university professors welcomed the move. Ge Xiulian, a professor at Capital Normal University, remarked, 'I have taught postgraduates English for over 20 years. Many of my students cannot carry on a conversation with native speakers.'
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, Taipei's Mayor, Ma Ying-jeou, has been lamenting the standard of English among Taiwanese. According to Singapore newspaper, Straits Times, Ma has asked two colleges, which are under the city's jurisdiction, to require all graduating students to pass an English proficiency test.
He said that local students were lagging being other Asian nations in their English language proficiency, adding that both Beijing and Shanghai had already implemented strategies to improve English standards among their populations. As an example, he cited that China was aiming for one-quarter of all taxi drivers in Shanghai to have passed an English test by the time it hosts the 2008 Olympic Games.
Taipei Physical Education College is one institution that is responding to the call for English tests. Students aiming to become elementary school teachers must now take English as a compulsory course. Taiwan's United Daily News also reported that from this year, Taiwan University will test students on their English reading and listening ability before they are allowed to graduate.
In another move in Taiwan, the Taipei City Government is planning to offer free tuition in English and Japanese to high school students to improve international relations. Lee Hsi-chin, Director of the city's Bureau of Education, said that the free courses, which will be offered at 29 local high schools, would focus on tourist conversations. They would enable Taiwanese citizens to 'understand the diversification of cultures', he explained.


Australia and NZ tipped for student growth

Both Australia and New Zealand could experience a surge in student numbers as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the USA, according to industry forecasts. Many students are expected to favour studying in Australasian countries as they turn to countries they perceive as being safe.
Both countries experienced good student growth last year and Education New Zealand was reported to be discussing strategies to cope with another expected rise in student numbers this year.
'
Clearly we are an alternative [to the USA],' said Lester Taylor, Chief Executive of Education New Zealand, 'but it would be inappropriate to go out and market New Zealand [as a safe destination] at this stage.' New Zealand's new marketing brand already draws upon safety as one of the reasons for choosing to study in New Zealand (see Language Travel Magazine, December 2001, page 7).
Others in the industry in New Zealand said it was still too early to tell if students would choose New Zealand above other destinations. John Langdon of Dominion English School in Auckland told the Evening Post that any increase would only be apparent by March.
Meanwhile, in Australia, promotion body English Australia (EA) has reported that English language teaching is one of the fastest growing export industries in the country. A survey of 87 English language colleges revealed market growth of 10 per cent each year, reported Alyson Moore, EA Chairperson.
Moore noted that the number of European students grew by 41 per cent in one year, and added that numbers from countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and Brazil might continue to rise because of the effects of the US terrorist attacks on the market. '[EA] believes that despite the current world uncertainty, Australia is now more attractive than ever,' she said.


Arels joins UK tourism body

The Association of Recognised English Language Services (Arels) in the UK has joined a new tourism alliance that has been established to provide one voice for the entire tourism industry in the country.
Tony Millns, Chief Executive of the association, said Arels was pleased to playing a part in this new initiative. 'Language students contribute over UK£1 billion (US$1.4 billion) a year to the UK's economy,' he said.
The association has also re-formed its all-party parliamentary group, which joins Members of Parliament and peers from all political parties. They aim to take up issues on the language teaching industry's behalf.