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Conditional Admissions Denial Changing the Face of American English Education Market

The EvoLLLution | Conditional Admissions Denial Changing the Face of American English Education Market
With the changes to conditional admission regulations in the United States, IELPs are likely to benefit, while institutions that have partnered with pathway program providers are scrambling to re-identify their competitive advantages and positioning.

In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security announced their intention to identify and resolve key issues with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)—the immigration mechanism that allows international students to study in the United States. The major issues, raised by key stakeholders, were identified in a report and the Department promised to release a final guidance document focused on pathway programs, conditional acceptance programs and intensive English language programs (IELPs) in 2016.

That guidance document was released in the summer, and has some significant implications for American providers of English-language programming aimed at international students. Though there were a number of regulation changes, the most significant was that institutions are no longer able to issue I-20 forms (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Students) for conditional admissions. This means students must meet all the requirements for admission to a degree program—including language proficiency—before they are issued their I-20.

This regulatory change does not impact admissions to ESL programs themselves, but instead to conditional admissions based on achieving a certain level of English proficiency. For these programs, they must issue students two separate I-20s, one for the IELP and one when they reach the necessary level of English proficiency to matriculate into a program.

However, it means that institutions that have partnered with organizations that support their pre-admissions English-language programming—pathway programs, for example—can no longer issue students critical documentation they need to come to the United States.

This piece answers a few common questions arising about how these changes to the SEVP will impact the IELP and pathway program environment in the US and around the world.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How do the changes to SEVP’s visa rules impact pathway providers operating in the United States?

Rob Jansen (RJ): Pathway providers operating in the US surely are challenged by these changes. It will involve more paperwork for students, which increases the threshold to choose the US as a destination for studying abroad.

Recruitment agencies will also take this into account when advising a student to choose the US instead of another country or continent to pursue their dream study.

The negative impact is intensified by the fact that there’s no transition period for these changes, which results in further confusion and a lack of clarity among education institutes, students and agents alike.

Evo: How do the changes to these requirements impact intensive English language programs being operated directly by colleges and universities?

RJ: The changes to the SEVP visa rules can be an opportunity for these higher education institutions offering IELPs. In cases where they now have to compete with a pathway provider who’s not offering conditional admissions (anymore)—just like themselves—the colleges and universities can reach out to these prospective students with an offer that more closely resembles what pathway providers are able to offer, clearly explaining their unique selling points compared with the courses of the pathway provider.

Evo: What do you think will be the long-term impact of these rule changes on international demand for English language programming in the United States?

RJ: The problem with visa regulations is that they tend to change rather often and are strongly influenced by politics. As such, we can’t say with certainly for how long these rule changes will be effective.

Having that said, I do believe that these rule changes will benefit competing countries that have similar conditional admission pathways in place, assuming that they are successfully reaching out to these same group of students.

The good news for the United States is that the majority of the international demand for English language programming wasn’t applying specifically for courses with conditional admission. As such, the ESL industry in the US as a whole will be significantly less impacted than the providers who purely focus on matriculating this specific segment into degree programs.

Evo: How will university demand for pathway provider partnerships be impacted by these visa requirement changes?

RJ: These visa requirement changes can certainly be interpreted as a reason not to move forward with a pathway provider, as there are many other uncertainties that have to be discussed when a university moves forward with a partnership.

However, pathway providers are offering universities much more than just the fact that students can receive conditional admission through their pathway program. Many universities in the United States are seriously lagging behind in the ever-increasing competitive landscape of international education. Pathway providers can complement universities’ resources with a network and skillset that enables them to successfully transfer from a state- or country-focused university towards a university that’s successfully reaching out to an international audience, being ready for the future.

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“US confirms visa policy for conditional admissions,” ICEF Monitor. August 3, 2016. Accessed at

Beckie Smith, “SEVP prohibits I-20 issuance for conditional admissions,” The Pie News, July 21, 2016. Accessed at

US Immigration and Customers Enforcement, “SEVP Policy Guidance S13.1: Conditional Admission”, July 13, 2016. Accessed at

Cambridge Education Group, “US Visa Overview”, OnCampus. Accessed at

Global Pathways, “Student Visa Information”. Accessed at

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