A statement that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released at the recent NAFSA International Educators conference in Houston has major implications for intensive English programs nationwide. At issue is the interpretation of a piece of legislation that President Obama signed in 2010 which required such programs to be accredited in order to issue visas to international students. While “university-governed” English programs originally favored the bill – believing that the accreditation of their parent university would automatically extend to their affiliated intensive English programs while simultaneously supplying structure to an increasingly crowded but little regulated industry – these new developments have changed their tune.
Their concerns stem from the Department of Homeland Security’s International Student and Exchange Visitor Program’s (SEVP) subsequent strict interpretation of law. Under this interpretation, SEVP-certified IEPs must possess the accreditation themselves in order issue visas and admit international students. Such accreditation, while not uncommon, nevertheless represents a significant (and unwelcome) procedural hurdle for intensive English programs.
While its statement at the NAFSA conference the Department of Homeland Security did not reverse this decision, it did offer a glimmer of hope to some programs. According to their statement, general university accreditation would extend to intensive English programs if the accrediting body specifically acknowledges the program in its evaluation. As Inside Higher Ed reported in its coverage of the conference, Link Powars of the Department of Homeland Security indicated that the agency will use three metrics to determine eligibility. Powars said “we’re looking for a letter from the school, on school stationary, saying that it is their program, and a letter from the accrediting body saying that they understand that ESL is theirs, that it’s part of their overall accreditation.” Although this will not help everyone – regional accreditors usually certify institutions en masse and not their individual programs – it provide hope to some and insight to many in the future.