Close cooperation in Australia between the Department for Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (Dimia) and education industry bodies could iron out problems that schools are experiencing with the immigration legislation that was introduced last year.
As a result of industry efforts to make the legislation more workable, a review of the current framework is being carried out by Dimia that may bring about a change in legislation by November. Particular problems have been cited in Korea and there are fears that developing markets are being stifled because of the current regulations.
Concerns were voiced last year when the new 'transparent' system was introduced, which gives each country and education sector an Assessment Level (AL) grade of between 1 and 5, according to the perceived risk of visa overstay. Prospective students who are assessed at AL 3, 4 or 5 have to provide extensive proof of finances and English language ability (see Language Travel Magazine, September and October 2001, page 6).
One key concern among English language providers is the requirement of students with higher AL gradings to have a relatively high Ielts score to gain a student visa. As Alyson Moore, Chairperson of English Australia, pointed out, 'It's a classic catch 22 [situation] in which the students are required to already know the very thing they want to study.' Industry bodies - encompassing English Australia (EA), the Affiliation of International Education Peak Bodies (AIEPB) and the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (Acpet) - have recommended to Dimia that alternatives to Ielts should be explored, as Ielts testing is limited in some countries, or that the Ielts requirement be dropped and the responsibility of screening English levels be placed with schools themselves.
Another key concern is the 'no further stay' rule that now exempts AL 3, 4 or 5 students studying English language from prolonging their studies once in Australia. Acpet member, Penny Kozlowski, from the English College of Adelaide, has reported severe delays in processing visa applications in Korea, which is related in part to the fact that students are now returning to Seoul to apply for a further student visa. Acpet has recommended that the no further stay rule be revoked and replaced with a new bona fide financial test.
Other suggestions include the proposal that regular reviews of assessment levels are carried out so that levels of compliance may lead to a change in a country's AL grading. Industry players are also lobbying for the abolition of the default AL 3 rule, which sees countries that are not specifically graded, with small numbers of visa applicants, given AL 3 status automatically. A spokesperson for EA pointed out, 'New markets cannot be grown whilst [they] are automatically placed in AL 3 category [including no further stay], regardless of any evidence of risk.' Results of the review are expected in August.
More changes for US visa system
All prospective students going to the USA are now required to obtain a student visa prior to entering the country and are no longer able to switch from tourist status to student status, unless intention of study is declared at the port of entry. Continued pressure on the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) has led to these reforms, as the USA looks to safeguard itself against visa violations and risk.
The changes follow the embarrassing situation brought to light after the September 11 events, in which the flight school attended by Mohammed Atta, presumed ringleader of the hijackers, received notification of his student visa approval from the INS six months after the attacks. Previously, students were able to begin a course of study in the USA while waiting for clarification of student visa issuance, although the majority of international students gain student visas prior to their arrival in the USA.
The INS said the amendment, which came into immediate effect in May, 'ensures that those aliens seeking to remain in the USA in student status will have received the appropriate security checks before a course of study'. Students will still be able to enter as a tourist in some circumstances, such as for interviews on campus, but they will not be able to begin their study programme until INS approval is received. The INS has said processing times of 30 days would be achieved in such cases.
In a further change, business visitors or tourists entering the country are now granted a 30-day visa rather than a standard six-month visa, unless they can explain to an INS immigration inspector why they need more time in the country. The maximum initial admission period for these visa categories will also drop from one year to six months.
'These new rules strike the appropriate balance between the INS' mission to ensure that our nation's immigration laws are followed and our desire to welcome legitimate visitors to the USA,' said INS Commissioner, James Ziglar. Terry Hartle at the American Council on Education welcomed the changes, saying, 'As of [now], the government's rules are simple: if you are here as a tourist, have a good time, but if you want to go to school, you need INS approval [first].'
The Bush administration has also announced plans to review applications from foreign students for study in 'sensitive areas' on a case-by-case basis. An Interagency Panel on Advanced Science and Security (Ipass) will be established that will provide an advisory opinion on cases referred to it by the Department of State, which retains its decision-making authority.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy stressed that Ipass would screen candidates looking to study in areas that are 'uniquely available in the United States', and that there would not be blanket screening of particular courses. Graduate and postgraduate students are expected to be most affected.
A win for Alphe USA
in Las Vegas
The second Alphe Workshop to be held in the USA was highly commended by participants for maintaining the same high quality of attendees and easy networking environment that have become the hallmarks of all the Alphe events. The workshop, which took place in April in Las Vegas, attracted 30 agents from 14 different countries who met with 16 schools and education institutions from around the world.
Jaull Loram, of the French Culinary Institute in the USA, commented, 'It was a very productive [workshop]. What was good was that all the attendees were networking constantly.' John Temple, of Temple & Temple Tours in Canada, said he found the casual, low-key atmosphere 'refreshing'.
Matthew Northover, Alphe Organiser, said that he hoped the workshop would grow at a comfortable pace, maintaining relaxed business opportunities and a good ratio of agents to educators.
US hopes for languages funding boost
Academics and lobbyists in the USA are hoping that the aftermath of September 11 will encourage increased funding for language study and exchange. President Bush has proposed a US$4 million increase in relevant Education Department funding in his 2003 budget, while legislation is currently pending in the Senate that, if accepted, would forego interest on college loans for students who study for undergraduate degrees in certain foreign languages, such as Arabic, Pashto and Russian.
Senator Richard J Durbin, who introduced the bill, said, 'It does our nation no good to have expanded intelligence gathering capabilities if what we retrieve sits untranslated. The USA must have the brainpower to match its firepower.' His comments came as it was revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had publicly pleaded for people to help translate documents written in Arabic and Farsi.
French - Chinese education links promoted
The French and Chinese governments signed an agreement in March to promote education in their respective countries, focusing on the exchange of students, teaching of French in China and Chinese in France and professional training. The agreement seeks to maintain growth in university exchange students, to establish common references and ensure partnerships between training institutions.
According to China's Xinhua news agency, a total of 3,450 Chinese university students are currently studying in France, up from 1,127 in 1997/98, while the number of French students studying Chinese in France has doubled in five years.