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Red tape cut for Chinese teacher visits

TEACHERS heading to Scotland to promote the Chinese language will be given leave to remain in the UK for a further year after five staff were at the centre of a row.

UK Immigration Minister Mark Harper has announced a relaxation of the red tape for people working at the Confucius Institutes and in Confucius classrooms following the case of five Chinese teachers who were refused leave to remain last year.

The changes will mean those taking part in the international education programme can stay for 24 months.

Existing visa restrictions had been criticised by First Minister Alex Salmond and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, who both petitioned Prime Minister David Cameron for change.

During a recent trip to China, the First Minister called for changes to the system when the Chinese teachers were refused applications by the Home Secretary for extensions of leave under the Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) scheme.

This decision was reversed after an intervention by the Scottish Government, but Mr Salmond called for changes so that the situation did not arise again. Mr Harper has confirmed he will make the changes to the policy.

Mr Salmond welcomed the alteration to UK visa rules, saying they are "nonsensical obstacles".

He said: "This proposed rule change is a victory for common sense.

"During my discussions with Hanban (the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language) in November, I was able to assure them the Scottish Government would do all it can to remove the nonsensical obstacles being placed in the way of these teachers returning to Scotland's Confucius Institutes and classrooms by the UK Home Office.

"Our demand was completely logical. It's not surprising Mr Harper has taken on board evidence from our institutions to make a simple change that carries an important consequence for our Confucius Institutes and classrooms."

The Confucius programme, which aims to strengthen educational co-operation between China and Scotland through language tuition, currently allows teachers to work in the UK for 12 months.

The proposed changes mean teachers and co-directors from China, who come to the UK under the Tier 5 GAE scheme to work in Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms, will be granted a visa to remain in the UK for 24 months.

In November last year Ms Hyslop also wrote to Mr Cameron, demanding the UK Government allow teachers from China to remain in Scotland for longer.

She spoke out after Home Secretary Theresa May overturned a decision to refuse applications from the five Chinese teachers working at the Confucius Institute at Strathclyde University allowing them to remain in Scotland for another year.

Initially two teachers had prompted the cross-border row but three further Confucius teachers became caught up in the visa dispute. But Ms Hyslop said the UK Home Secretary had already stated this was "an exception", prompting Ms May to call for permanent changes that would allow for greater retention of teachers and maximum benefits for students.

Mr Salmond added: "Scotland is the most successful Confucius country in Europe, which made it all the more imperative a resolution was found. The Scottish Government wants to build stronger links with China, and the opportunity for Chinese teachers and co-directors to teach in our schools and universities is one important way of doing that."

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