UI, other schools look for clarification on international students’ documentation

By Stacey Murray, The Daily Iowan

The U.S. government is making it much simpler for colleges and universities to understand why international students attend their institutions.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is simplifying the distribution of degree and English language I-20 forms international students receive from universities following their admission.

Students wishing to study in the United States may receive two different I-20 forms — one to learn English and the other to earn a degree. The Students and Exchange Visitor Program, a federal agency that works with students entering the American education system, wants to make sure institutions are using appropriate forms for students.

With guidance from the program, some universities will face less confusion, but University of Iowa officials see the university as already being conscientious when admitting international students.

“The university is absolutely compliant and very, very careful,” said Maureen Burke, the coordinator for the UI English as a Second Language Program.

The confusion about I-20s occurs when students are under conditional admission — a status in which students improve their English skills until proficient enough to work on a degree.

The university grants two separate I-20s depending on the students’ scholarly intentions after students meet all the admission criteria, said Lee Seedorf of the UI International Programs.

“We issue both kinds of I-20s, and it’s more a matter of which document is the better document based upon the guidance of [Student and Exchange Visitor Program], and that’s what [the agency] is studying right now,” Burke said.

The organization will release guidance in January for universities about granting separate I-20s.

These evaluations by the program aren’t uncommon — the last issue dealt with accrediting for English language programs in the United States.

Students take an English placement test focusing on speaking and understanding. If the students are deemed capable of functioning and studying, they’re granted degree I-20s. Those studying English in the United States can receive a degree I-20 once their English reaches the speaking standard.

The UI enrolled 3,463 international students for the 2011-12 school year.

International students David Park and Yifan Shao both study at the UI on degree I-20s.

David Park, a native South Korean who applied for his visa in the embassy in Seoul, said the process was simple and he passed the English proficiency test.

Because of the nature of relations with South Korea, Park’s visas will last four years — three years longer than Shao’s.

Shao, a student from China, will have to renew her visa each year, but her degree I-20 will last her duration at the university.

“It wasn’t hard to do,” he said. “I could’ve come last semester.”

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