China-West Hartford Exchange Program Will Not Take Place in 2016 Due to Procedural Issue

Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

[Updated] West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said that he had to cancel the program because the Chinese students have not yet been able to obtain visas.

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said Wednesday that the exchange program that was to being this fall involving 21 to 25 students from China studying at Conard and Hall high schools will not be able to take place due to the length of time to secure necessary certification.

“Time has run out on us committing to be able to sponsor visas, as we still have not been reviewed,” Moore said.

Although West Hartford Public Schools applied five or six months ago, Moore recently learned that the process takes much longer.

Carissa Cutrell, public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), said that before the students can even file an I-20 form to obtain an F-1 visa, the school district has to be certified by SEVP. That adjudication process takes time.

While Cutrell did not have information specific to where West Hartford’s application is in the process, she released the following statement and clarification in an email:

“The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certifies schools so they can enroll international students using an F or M visa to study in the U.S. In order to be certified by SEVP, a school must prove it is a bona fide institution by completing a Form-17 ‘Petition of Approval of School for Attendance by Nonimmigrant Student,’ submitting an application, paying an application fee, agreeing to a site visit, and providing requested evidence to support their application. The school must also agree to strict recordkeeping and reporting requirements as outlined in federal regulations. A SEVP adjudicator reviews the documentation provided by the school and makes a decision to approve or deny certification.”

If the district is granted certification, the students could then apply for visas through the U.S. Department of State.

At a lengthy public meeting on May 2 regarding West Hartford’s purchase of the UConn West Hartford campus, Moore discussed both the exchange program planned to begin this fall and an arrangement with Conard and Hall that might take place if Weiming were to build an international academy in West Hartford. He mentioned the potential problem with the visas at that meeting as well as at last Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, and said that the program might have to be “pushed back for another year.”

“Unfortunately the clock just ran out,” Moore said Wednesday, and because the the process is not complete the 21 students that were already chosen to participate in the program need to be released so that they can pursue other opportunities.

Moore said this has nothing to do with Weiming, or the fact that it was announced Monday that the Town of West Hartford had negotiated an arrangement to purchase the UConn campus at a reduced cost of $5 million, in lieu of having the University sell it directly to Weiming for $12.6 million.

“I know it seems, due to timing, that this is tied to the sale of the property but it is not. We have known of this possibility for quite a while, and this process is independent of Weiming,” Moore said.

The possibility of an exchange program with Weiming is still open for the future, Moore said Thursday morning. “We were planning on next year, so we will reevaluate once we are approved, see where we are, if Weiming is still interested, and if it works out for us,” he said in an email.

The memorandum of understanding that had been entered into with Weiming was for a three-year period, but always had a year-to-year opt out provision, Moore said.

Moore said that this is the first time that West Hartford Public Schools has applied to participate in this type of program.

“In the future we will continue to explore potential exchange opportunities that would benefit our West Hartford students,” Moore said.

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