Visa rules force SA language schools to shut down

Education SA (EduSA) is calling on government to urgently find a solution with getting visas for foreign students wanting to learn English in SA. (EduSA)
Education SA (EduSA) is calling on government to urgently find a solution with getting visas for foreign students wanting to learn English in SA. (EduSA)

Cape Town - South Africa's lucrative English language school industry is starting to crumble with at least two schools shutting down and fears of several others to follow over the country's recently implemented visa regulations.

Over the last two years, English language schools have been bearing the brunt of South Africa's visa requirements due to a gap in the system and the lack of coordination between the departments of Home Affairs and Higher Education.

International students studying English in South Africa declined by 37% from 2014 to 2015, according to Education SA (EduSA), a national association of English language centres with 23 member schools.

"Two of our members recently closed down and schools are really starting to struggle after diminished numbers for the past two years," EduSA vice-chair Torrique Borges told Fin24.

The impact of this fall in student numbers stretches far beyond the schools itself and ultimately means less spending by foreigners.

"Besides school closures, many schools have had to downsize both in staffing, premises and general business operations, so school closures are not the only problem as there have already been job losses and losses in income across our value chain of providers and suppliers," explained Borges.

Students’ visas were denied because under the new regulations, accreditation held by EFL schools were insufficient to obtain study visas.

A process was started to register schools with the Department of Higher Education as a Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college but it wasn't feasible for various reasons, said Borges.

Some of these included that some schools are small with few students, to no set syllabus being used as lessons are student-focused and the period of study time differing depending on the needs of the students.

"We fully appreciate national interest in immigration policy as well as the need for accreditation within the educational landscape but at the same time I feel that we are an industry of huge potential where South Africa has a number of unique advantages."

EduSA has been dealing directly with the departments of Home Affairs and Higher Education and although there were talks of finding an interim solution, the problem persists.

In the meanwhile, the laws are devastating the industry.

"It seems reasonable to expect us to be able to work with government to solve the crisis timeously before further irreparable damage is done to our industry," said Johannes Kraus, EduSA chairperson.

He said winter is traditionally our low season where many schools depend on their long term students to get through the quiet periods of business.

"As long term students cannot get study visas, the winters have been extremely tough and there are serious concerns about further school closures before the start of summer later this year,” warned Kraus.

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