June 2005 issue

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Action bill to change US fortunes?

A bold bid to enable short-term English language students to enter the USA on a visitor visa has been made on behalf of the international education community in the USA. Two Senators, Norm Coleman and Jeff Bingaman, have introduced a bill, entitled the American Competitiveness Through International Openness Now Act (or Action). They liaised with members of the American Association of Intensive English Programs (AAIEP) prior to the introduction of the act.

The legislation, which is an updated version of last year's International Student and Scholar Access Act (ISSAA) introduced by Coleman (see Language Travel Magazine, October 2004, page 6), has additional aims that could considerably enhance the USA's competitiveness. One crucial aim of the Action bill is to amend the current requirement that immigration officers find evidence of "essential ties" to a student's home country to a requirement for students to demonstrate sufficient financial means and a legitimate academic intent.

"In this age of globalisation, it is increasingly difficult for a 20-year-old to [show ties to their country]," said Coleman, when introducing the legislation. "Many have lived and studied in other countries. They don't have a house or a business' spouses or children. Consular officers treat every student as an intending immigrant, and it is exceedingly difficult for a student to prove otherwise."

The act also calls, for the second time, for the Sevis fee to be reduced for short-term students from the current US$100 to US$35. It also suggests requiring Sevis payment from students only after they have received their visa, or otherwise refunding the fee if the visa application is unsuccessful. In terms of letting short-term students in on a visitor visa, the act suggests allowing consular officers discretion, on a case-by-case and country-by-country basis, to view as "recreational in nature" someone's intention to study for less than one semester, and therefore, enter as a visitor.

"There is a perception around the world that America is no longer a welcoming place so we need to be deliberate and smart in our efforts to change that view," said Coleman. Bingaman noted the documented declines in international students in the 2003/2004 academic year, and added, "We have a long-standing record of producing the best trained and most innovative scientists and engineers, and we must not concede our leadership in this area." He also noted the economic role that international students play. The IIE estimates foreign students contribute around US$13 billion to the US economy through tuition and living expenses.

The bill also advocates: that consular officers should be able to waive the requirement for an in-person interview in some cases; establishing a presumption of visa approval for frequent visitors; establishing timelines and guidelines for security reviews of certain visa applicants; allowing multiple entries on student and scholar visas; and finally, setting up a national marketing plan to boost enrolments as has been done in other countries.

UK gov. to raise its expectations of industry

The UK government is expected to make an announcement soon regarding an accreditation scheme for private English language providers. The idea was considered in the Regulatory Impact Assessment undertaken prior to the launch of the registration scheme for providers in January this year (see Language Travel Magazine, September 2004, page 6). An accreditation scheme has always been on the agenda as a long-term proposal to introduce quality assurance to the private ELT sector on a wide-scale basis.

Meanwhile, a UK government minister has hinted that an announcement regarding targets for international student recruitment is expected. In a debate in the House of Lords earlier this year, Geoffrey Filkin, a junior minister at the Department for Education and Skills, said he expected an announcement about the next phase of the "Prime Minister's Initiative" - a plan dating from 1999 that aimed to raise the number of overseas students in the UK.

Filkin also cast doubt on figures suggesting that the government's move to abolish appeals for students whose visa application is rejected more than twice will damage the attractiveness of British universities. He said that the government's own data did not support figures from the Immigration Advisory Service, suggesting that 65 per cent of students that appeal against a visa rejection are successful. Filkin added that the government's own immigration statistics indicated that many students chose to re-apply when their visa was rejected rather than appeal.

A number of teething problems have been reported with the register of bona fide education providers, which is now used by immigration officials to assess whether students from outside the European Economic Area are studying at a legitimate school. Some institutions were entered incorrectly, or the search facility was not working properly, for example, while, according to EL Gazette, some 15 per cent of accredited UK schools were either missing or wrongly categorised when the register went live in January.

At English UK, Ulrike Kadritzke pointed out that each school has just one entry on the register, even if it has more than one centre, so students should use the school's main head office address. The list is online at www.dfes.gov.uk/providersregister.

Record numbers of Koreans study overseas

The number of school-age Koreans leaving the country to study overseas has reached record numbers, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, which earlier this year revealed that 12,317 school-aged students left the country between March 2004 and February 2005, up from 11,341 students in the previous annual period. This translates into 34 students leaving Korea each day.

"Despite the prolonged economic downturn, many parents are sending their children abroad or moving to other countries," said a spokesperson at the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, adding, "Many students are choosing to go to the United States, Canada and China."

Meanwhile, the popularity of learning English in Korea has been immortalised on film in Please Teach Me English, a comedy by Kim Seong-Su. The film was released in Korea in 2003, and released in other Asian countries in April this year. It is reported that Seong-Su said that he made the film, which has English subtitles, as his personal revenge on English language learning, which he spent a lot of time and money on and failed to master.

Italy protects its language

The National Research Council (CNR) in Italy is to embark upon a strategy to boost interest in the Italian language and safeguard its future. Up to e1.5 million (US$1.9 million) will be spent on financing projects to boost international interest in Italian, and a special Italian cultural identity department is to be set up, according to press reports.

"The CNR is committed to the task of conserving and promoting the Italian linguistic and cultural identity," said Roberto de Mattei, Vice President of CNR. His announcement came just days after the European Commission (EC) revealed it was to drop Italian from its core official languages. Documents are now only translated into English, French and German.

500 Chinese students lose out in Paris

Up to 500 Chinese students arrived at their school in Paris earlier this year to find themselves locked out, as the owner had been detained by the French authorities on suspicion of falsifying legal documents to secure visas.

This is the latest in many stories surrounding Chinese students using duplicitous means to enter or study in a country. Sometimes, they may be unwitting pawns in the affair, as suggested by Cen Jianjun, Deputy Director of the International Cooperation and Exchange Department at the Chinese Ministry of Education in China.

He told the China Daily, "In their craze for an overseas education, [students and parents] tend to bypass the necessary verification process, thus leaving the ground fertile for chicanery. Some overseas institutions with dubious qualifications and some China-based agents will do anything to make a quick buck."

The stranded students, enrolled at Comme un Chinois a Paris, were all expected to be accepted elsewhere after the intervention of the Chinese Embassy in Paris, according to news reports. The Ministry of Education has posted a warning on its website in China.

Malta accused of aiding illegal immigration

Malta is the latest country to have become embroiled in allegations that illegal immigrants are using its student visa system to gain access to Europe. Concerns are being voiced by the Italian authorities, which believe that in one case, suspect English language students then travelled from Malta to Sicily in an attempt to get into Italy.

Earlier this year, 15 illegal immigrants – all from China and Mongolia – were forced to jump into the sea 15 miles from Sicily because of concerns that Italian marine police would catch them. Their speedboat reportedly departed from Malta. Six of the group were saved, while six died and three others have not been found.

But according to the Sunday Times of Malta, the details of the survivors did not correspond to immigration records held by police in Malta.

Maltese language school association, Feltom, said it believed that the overwhelming majority of English language students in the country were genuine, adding that it would be in favour of stricter, clearer visa procedures for inbound English language students.

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