The University of Iowa

English proficiency for visiting scholars: new State Dept. rules

Deans, Directors, and Departmental Executive Officers
Downing A. Thomas, Associate Provost and Dean of International Programs
November 10, 2014
English proficiency for visiting scholars: new State Dept. rules

Starting in 2015, all new international scholars coming to the University of Iowa in J-1 status (in the Professor, Researcher, Specialist, or Short-Term Scholar categories) are required by the U.S. Department of State to demonstrate English proficiency before a DS-2019 can be issued to bring the scholar here.  The rule goes into effect for all documents processed on or after January 5, 2015.

The Department of State released the following guidance to exemplify the level of proficiency that will be required of all new J-1 scholars:

“The Department believes that not only is an exchange visitor’s success in his or her particular program dependent upon sufficient English language capability, but good English communication skills are essential to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors. Moreover, the Department continues to find that too many exchange visitors lack sufficient English proficiency to perform their jobs or complete their academic programs; to navigate daily life in the United States; to read and comprehend program materials; to understand fully their responsibilities, rights, and protections; and to know how to obtain assistance, if necessary. Accordingly the Department adopts a modified version of the regulatory language governing the Trainee and Intern categories as the program-wide standard for determining the English language proficiency of exchange visitors. The Department reminds sponsors to retain evidence of how they measured applicants’ English language proficiency so that it may be made available to the Department upon request.”

The methods established by the Department of State for determining English language proficiency are as follows:

  1. Through a recognized English language test;
  2. Through signed documentation from an academic institution or English language school; or
  3. Through an interview "conducted by the sponsor" in-person, by videoconference, or by web camera.

Any one of these methods will suffice to determine English proficiency.

  1. English Language Proficiency Test

International Programs, along with ESL Programs, recommends that results of either the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) be accepted as they are the most widely utilized tests in higher education and are available throughout the world:

  1. IELTS overall score of 5.0, with a subscore of 6.0 in either reading or listening.
  2. TOEFL (internet based) overall score of 60 with either a listening or reading subscore of 15 or above.
  1. Signed Documentation from an Academic Institution or English Language School

International Programs recommends accepting a transcript showing enrollment and grades from a post-secondary academic institution where English is the primary language of instruction.

  1. Documented Interview Conducted by the Sponsoring Institution

Departments may conduct the interview by following this procedure:

  1. Members of the department must use guidelines provided by ESL when assessing language proficiency (available from ISSS). 
  2. The interview must be live and recorded electronically and a copy emailed to International Student and Scholar Services before a DS-2019 will be issued.  Recommended programs include Skype, Google, and MSN or using smartphone apps such as FaceTime.
  3. Interviews should be conducted as video interviews, unless the scholar being invited is personally known to the faculty host, in which case a recorded telephone interview is sufficient.

ISSS is required to keep a digital copy of the interview, which must be received before a DS-2019 will be issued.  Failure to do so will cause the University of Iowa to lose certification to host J scholars.