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United States : US confirms visa policy for conditional admissions.

The US Department of Homeland Securitys (DHS) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has issued its long-awaited final policy guidance regarding conditional admissions for international students intending to study in the US on F-1 (academic) or M-1 (vocational) visas.

The final policy, published on 13 July 2016, closely resembles a draft version released in July 2014, and its key points are as follows.

The now-official policy statement effectively establishes that universities may not issue an I-20 (the document that international students need to acquire a study visa) for academic studies until the student has met all requirements for admission.

Universities that operate their own English language programmes may issue an I-20 for language studies, and, subsequently, a separate I-20 for students continuing to academic studies once language proficiency requirements have been met. In such cases, universities are now required to process level change reports to SEVP verifying that students are fully admitted to degree programmes.

However, institutions that rely on partner schools for language training, or any other preparatory studies, may no longer issue an I-20 until the student has satisfied all admission requirements. Rather, the partner school must now provide its own I-20 for the student covering the period for any pre-degree studies.

Conditional admission, whereby prospective students are granted provisional acceptance to universities on the basis of meeting one or more remaining admission requirements (in particular, language proficiency), has long been a common mechanism used in international recruiting. However, DHS pointed out in its 2014 draft guidance that as far back as 1975 the US General Accounting Office had concerns about the practice.

Even so, it has been widely employed by many universities with English programmes that have also offered conditional admissions for academic studies. In such cases, the I-20s typically indicate intended majors and estimated time frames for completing the academic degree, plus some extra time for study in the institutions English programme. In recent years, more universities without their own language programmes have also formed partnerships with private language schools, providing students headed towards those third-party providers with assurance that once their language abilities improved they would have a place at the university.

US consular officials in many countries commonly approved visas valid for a longer period time to allow completion of both preparatory English and degree studies. And in some countries, where visas were harder to obtain for language study only, such conditional admissions for degree study were thought to increase the students chances of obtaining visas.

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Publication:Mena Report
Date:Aug 4, 2016
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