USA schools seek clarity on conditional entry

June 06, 2013

Educators in the USA have raised concerns about draft policy guidelines over bridge programmes and conditional offers that would require separate I-20 visa application documents to be issued for different levels of study.

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As previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking to tighten rules regarding conditional offers to students that are unable to meet the full criteria to commence degree-level study.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has now issued draft policy guidance on bridge programmes and conditional admissions, which states that, “A DSO [designated school official] can only issue a Form I-20 to a student who meets all requirements for admission into a program of study.”

Separate I-20 forms would therefore need to be issued for English language preparation or bridge/pathway programmes and the subsequent academic course of study at the college. School officials can still admit students pending satisfactory completion of another programme of study, but must issue I-20s only for the programme that the student currently meets the criteria for.

EnglishUSA, the association of Intensive English Programs, is formally responding to SEVP, and members have raised a number of questions about the draft guidelines, said Patricia Juza, Immediate Past Vice President for Advocacy.

One area of concern is whether colleges and universities would alter their admissions criteria in order to remain competitive in international recruitment. For example, a college could drop English language requirements from their admission criteria in order to issue a full offer to a student.

According to the guidance, bridge programmes should be one year in duration. “There is some concern that SEVP is starting to create educational policy, rather than immigration regulation,” said Juza. “Will schools have the flexibility to provide programming which is in the best interest of individual students?”

Under the guidelines, schools must register bridge programmes as a distinct programme of study with its own independent admission standards with SEVP, and there will be a one-year period of grace for these to be added.

However, EnglishUSA members have expressed concern over whether SEVP would be able to adjudicate all the new programmes, said Juza, especially in instances where an institution is going through the process of recertification. Some colleges have waited over a year for recertification and new programmes cannot be added during this process.

SEVP gave until June 7 for formal responses to the guidance. “We hope that SEVP’s request for feedback is just the first step, and that there will be more opportunity for discussion between SEVP and international educators before the guidance becomes final,” said Juza..

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