January 2004 issue

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AAIEP position

Changes have recently been made to the USA's immigration system that have galvanised the country's English language teaching industry into action. Kelly Franklin, President of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP), answers questions about his association's response to the current challenges facing English language schools.

Full name: American Association of Intensive English Programs
Year established: 1989
Number of members: 270
Type of members: membership is limited to individual IEPs represented by their directors
Government recognition: yes
Complaints procedure: yes
Association's main role: setting standards for IEP operations and advocating on behalf of IEPs and IEP students both nationally and internationally
Code of practice: the AAIEP standards serve as our Code of Practice
Agent workshops/fam trips: no
Contact details: AAIEP Central Office, 229 North 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA, 10904, USA. Tel: +1 215 895 5856; Fax: +1 215 895 5854; Email: info@aaiep.org

What has AAIEP been up to in the last year?
We are working to influence our government in regards to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (Sevis) and other regulatory changes. In several meetings with the State Department, we've discussed problems caused by the visa procedure changes. It's an uphill battle, but I shudder to think of where we might be if we had not had strong input from our advocacy team. We work continuously on improving our standards and self-appraisal guidelines. We have also introduced a new AAIEP logo, a new website (featuring an easier search facility), and continued efforts to get information about AAIEP out to advisers and prospective students.

I read that AAIEP is developing a policy brief about B and W visa status. What is this?
Currently, the government policies for B visa holders (tourists) taking short-term or part-time courses in the USA are very unclear. In the past, we assumed that people coming for shorter programmes or for 17 or fewer hours per week could use B visas. Recently, however, many Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials say that 'primary purpose of study' is the key to who must have a student visa. We aren't sure how to instruct someone who wants to come on a four-week vacation to the USA and study for two weeks in an IEP. For students seeking university degrees or certificates, we agree that they need a student visa. But someone wanting to enter the USA and study a little English while vacationing should be eligible for a B tourist visa. We want a more consistent definition. Secondly, we'd like to see the government develop guidelines more in line with other countries that deal with the same markets, so that people could come to the US for short-term programmes of two to three months without having to go through the steps needed to get a student visa. As to the W (visa waiver) programme, we believe that it doesn't make sense to allow people in from visa-waiver countries with no security check at all, then allow them to do anything while in the country except study for a short time.

Are association members noting falling student numbers as a result of new visa interview requirements?
Yes, we've noticed falling numbers. There are many factors [responsible], but one large factor is the tightening of regulations. We are in meetings with the State Department and soon, we hope, with the DHS. We are working closely with other organisations to get our message through. We fully understand the USA's security needs. But, we must point out cases where over-regulation does no good in securing our borders and instead hurts our programmes and the overall economy. We have asked that there be more local, country-by-country decision making on personal interview requirements. Again, the clearest example of silliness is in visa-waiver countries. Someone from Japan can enter the USA for three months with no travel plan, no visa, no interview, nothing. But if that same person wants to [study] while here, they have to go to the US Embassy (often at considerable extra expense), get a visa, and be tracked in Sevis. Anyone with malicious intent will just get on the plane and come with no visa. We must make the government realise that English programmes deal with a variety of 'students,' not just the degree-seeking student who may be planning years ahead for his trip to the USA.

What is AAIEP's opinion about Sevis, now that it is in place. Are schools and students adapting to it and does it serve its purpose well?
We are resigned to Sevis and are learning to live with it. Sevis will do a better job of tracking students who are maintaining their status. Will it serve its real intended purpose, to secure our country and our borders from terrorism? As long as our borders are fairly open, as long as other visa categories remain untracked, and as long as our government enforcement agencies are understaffed and overworked, I have doubts.

What activities is AAIEP planning for 2004?
Our primary goal is to have better relations with government offices so that we can help develop sane policies regarding student flow to the USA. We also continue to promote and benefit our member schools. We are expanding our circle of 'friends,' that is, our institutional associate members. We are developing our ties to agents and advisers around the world, making them more aware of the AAIEP brand and ethos. And we are working on developing 'Best Practice' position papers for members. These will show members how different programmes deal with issues and problems common to us all. AAIEP has always been focused on promoting better practices and standards among our members.

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