Daily news briefing, State Department, May 24
QUESTION: On China, you must have heard the new State Department directive to the Confucius Institute in the U.S. Could you explain to us, what is the purpose of this new directive?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me say that, as you know, the U.S. greatly values its people-to-people exchange with China. This was one of the centerpieces of the Secretary’s participation in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. She had a separate people-to-people exchange with State Councilor Liu and they got a chance to meet some American students and some Chinese students, and it was a great event.
This is also not about the Confucius Institutes themselves. It is simply about whether the right visa status was applied in these cases. When you have a J-1 education visa, there are two categories. There are J-1 visas if you are in kindergarten through high school, and there is a different category of J-1 visas if you are at university.
And there was some muddling and messing up, so – in these cases – so we’re going to sort these out. Nobody’s going to have to leave the country. It’s all going to get cleared up. But there was some confusion on the front end, so we’re going to fix it.
QUESTION: But in the directive, it said on all the current affected exchange visitors, they have to leave before June 30 this year. Is that the case?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is that we’re going to do our best to fix this without having anybody have to leave.
QUESTION: And finally —
MS. NULAND: That is my understanding.
QUESTION: — are you concerned about the Confucius Institute’s expansion in the U.S. as the —
MS. NULAND: Are we concerned about?
QUESTION: The Confucius Institute’s expansion in the U.S. as the strongest Chinese soft power?
MS. NULAND: No. This is something that we support. It’s part of the people-to-people understanding. We just want to make sure that the visa categories are correct.
QUESTION: Can you speak to the timing of why now? Was it – was that in conjunction to this problem being across all of the Confucius Institutes, the J-1 confusion?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to why this came up now. I think that we – as I understood it this morning, we became aware that this wasn’t just one case or two cases, that there was a – sort of a mess-up in the processing in general. So we need to fix that.
QUESTION: What was the mess-up?
QUESTION: Can you characterize the mess-up? Yeah.
MS. NULAND: That in fact, folks who are participating and teaching in programs that were K-12 were given university-style J-1s, and the other way around.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: And whose problem with that?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to how the mess-up occurred, but we’re going to fix it.
QUESTION: Well, who issues the visas? I mean, it’s – the State Department issues visas, right?
MS. NULAND: Right. So whether there was some confusion on the front end with the sponsors as to which programs individual teachers were being brought for, or whether there was some changing after they arrived, I really can’t speak to that. But we’re going to clean it up so that everybody’s in the right visa category.
QUESTION: So you —
QUESTION: You don’t expect anyone to have to leave the country?
MS. NULAND: My understanding was we’re going to do our best to fix this so that nobody has to leave.
QUESTION: And just so we’re clear, you don’t think, then, that the mistake was on the State Department’s end? Do you think it’s possible that it was on the end of the people who applied or the intermediaries?
MS. NULAND: I just can’t speak to that, and I can’t speak to whether this was uniform in any way or whether there were various problems.
QUESTION: And you can’t speak to it because you don’t know —
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: — or because you know and you don’t want to say?
MS. NULAND: Because we have to investigate it and figure it out.
QUESTION: Can you talk about how many visas were impacted by the problem?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have that either.
QUESTION: May I ask you for what kind of meetings, when you say that you are working on this issue? I heard that some of the Confucius Institutions have come and had meetings with the assistant secretary already talking about this. So could you tell us more about what kind of works has been doing to avoid – make sure people don’t have to leave the country by the end of June?
MS. NULAND: Yeah. My understanding is that at the current moment, we’re trying to size the problem, we’re trying to figure out how many people are affected, and then we’re going to – and we’re in the process of reissuing instructions that are a little bit clearer and a little bit more easy to manage. Let’s put it that way.
QUESTION: Okay. And may I also say that we know that in the past couple of months, a few members in the Congress expressed their dissatisfaction and question about the operation of Confucius Institutes in the U.S. So I wonder, when you were doing this – before you released this direction about the J-1 visa, did you have any contact with those members in the Congress?
MS. NULAND: Well, I’m sure that, as we always do on all matters, we’re in dialogue with Congress. But this is a matter not about any of that; it’s a matter about whether people are in the right visa category for where they are teaching.
» State Department directive, May 24, 2012