Chinese teacher visa controversy resolved

Updated: 2012-05-27 07:45

By Tan Yingzi in Washington(China Daily)

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Within 24 hours of consultations between officials from the Chinese embassy and the US State Department, a revised policy directive was sent out on Friday to clarify the visa status of Chinese-language teachers.

The new version clarifies that the Confucius Institutes run by accredited US universities and colleges do not need to apply for another accreditation.

To ensure the smooth operation of Chinese language programs, the Chinese teachers with the wrong type of visa will not be required to leave the United States at the end of this academic year, as was reported last week. The State Department will assist such teachers to get their visa category corrected with their designated sponsor.

The previous directive, issued on May 17, raised confusion and concerns among US universities that sponsor Confucius Institutes, the well-established programs China's government uses to promote Chinese language and culture around the world.

The earlier directive also created a stir back in China, where people began to ask whether such people-to-people exchanges were welcomed by Americans.

The May 17 document has stated that any faculty member working through a college's J-1 exchange program is violating visa rules if teaching students of elementary- or secondary-school age. Such teachers would have been required to return to China by June 30 to reapply for an appropriate program.

That interpretation would have forced at least 51 Chinese teachers to leave the US. About 600 currently work in the US, according to the Confucius Institute Headquarters, more commonly known as Hanban.

The original directive also demanded that Confucius Institutes obtain US accreditation to continue accepting foreign scholars and professors as teachers.

Since the first institute in the US was established at the University of Maryland in 2005, there are 81 Confucius Institutes across the country and such accreditation has not been required before.

Fang Maotian, minister counselor for education affairs at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said he regretted that the State Department did not notify the Chinese side in advance about the May 17 directive, which could have affected many Chinese teachers and Chinese language programs in the US.

But after "candid" talks with US counterparts Thursday afternoon, he agreed that the document was not targeted at the Confucius Institutes, but rather a "routine check" and a "technical issue" over the visa status of all foreign exchange teachers on US campuses.

"It's just a follow-up of the annual visa status check of exchanges visitors across the country in January," Fang told reporters at a briefing Friday afternoon.

"We always respect the US laws and regulations. And we will closely follow the development of this issue."

He said both sides need to improve communication and consultation to avoid such misunderstanding and confusion in the future.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated Friday at the daily press briefing that people-to-people relations with China are a very high priority for the US. She described the first directive as "sloppy and not complete" for causing the confusion.

"We regret the fact that the first notice was not our best work and we've now endeavored to fix this," she said.

(China Daily 05/27/2012 page2)