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Confucius Institutes visas resolved

By Tan Yingzi (China Daily)

08:21, June 01, 2012

When Fang Maotian entered the meeting room at the State Department on May 24, he was surprised and overwhelmed by the size of the United States' team.

Led by Robin J. Lerner, deputy assistant secretary for private sector exchange at the State Department, there were more than a dozen US officials waiting for urgent consultations with Fang, minister counselor for education affairs at the Chinese Embassy in the US, and his two colleagues.

With tension mounting over a confusing visa directive concerning Chinese language teachers in the US, the two sides had quickly reached out for dialogue and successfully found a solution within a couple of days to avoid any further misunderstanding.

On May 17, without consulting the Chinese side, Lerner signed a controversial visa policy directive and sent it to US universities that sponsor Confucius Institutes, through which the Chinese government promotes Chinese language and culture overseas.

The document stated that any faculty member who, through a college's J-1 exchange program, teaches students of elementary or secondary school age, is violating visa rules. It also stated that the educator must return to China by June 30 to reapply for an appropriate program.

If enacted, at least 51 Chinese teachers would have been forced to leave the US. About 600 currently work there, according to the Confucius Institute Headquarters, more commonly known as Hanban.

The directive also demanded that the institutes were required to obtain US accreditation to continue accepting foreign scholars and professors as teachers. It was the first time that such a requirement had been raised since the non-profit organizations began operating in 2005.

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