When it comes to visa overstays, foreign students are least likely to leave the U.S. upon expiration compared to other visa eligible groups. In fact, in 2016 alone 79,000 students failed to go home when their visas lapsed.
According to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a number of student visas are handled by individuals working at "schools" that have been set up as fronts for other businesses. The visa process at these "schools" is not being handled by proper immigration officials at the Department of Homeland Security, but instead by individuals gaming the system for profit.
In a letter sent to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson, Grassley says the Student and Exchange Visa Visitor Program is not only lacking oversight, but is acting as a mill to pump out visas to "students" who will likely overstay. Further, these visas make students eligible to work in the U.S. and many individuals apply not to attend school, but to gain employment.
"I am writing to request information regarding the Department’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), and enforcement of regulations that prevent spurious businesses from posing as institutions of higher learning. Some of these businesses appear to be taking advantage of the fact that the U.S. government permits privately employed 'Designated School Officials,' over whom we have limited oversight, to authorize the issuance of student visas and approve foreign students to work in the U.S.," Grassley wrote.
"While many reputable colleges and universities enroll foreign students, dozens of questionable schools appear to be operating 'visa mills' that provide little or no educational benefit to those who pay tuition, instead acting as surreptitious employment agencies for aliens seeking to work in the United States. These institutions, many of which operate as section 501(c)(3) (tax exempt) educational institutions, are costing American workers millions of dollars in lost taxes and employment opportunities, and contribute disproportionately to the large and growing population of foreign students and exchange visitors—nearly 80,000 in 2016—who overstay visas to remain in the United States without legal authorization," he continued.
A number of schools flagged by Grassley's office and by ICE for suspicious behavior have little accountability from DHS even when it is proven they are violating visa rules and profiting through the enrollment of foreign students.
"Several schools that exhibit the suspect characteristics of likely visa mills nonetheless retain SEVP certification, and continue to issue I-20s and approve student employment. Publicly available information regarding enforcement actions suggests that school decertification, when it does happen, is a slow process. For example, in the case of Herguan University, the school’s Principal DSO, Jerry Wang, was indicted on July 24, 2012, for conspiring to commit visa fraud and creating false documentation in support of the school’s SEVP certification application (among other offenses). These activities surely called Herguan’s authority to issue I-20s into question, but it was not until almost three years later, on March 31, 2015, that SEVP finally withdrew Herguan’s certification," the letter states.
"Another school, Tri-Valley University (TVU), was certified to admit 30 foreign students in 2009 but by May 2010—when ICE began an investigation—had enrolled 939. The next fall, Tri-Valley had 1,555 foreign students, before the school was shuttered due to an astonishing list of criminal activity by the school’s founder, Susan Su. TVU 'students' reportedly took no classes, but exchanged tuition and fees for I-20s and work approval. After closure, hundreds of TVU students were, mystifyingly, permitted to transfer to other schools," the letter continues.
Grassley has asked for a number of questions surrounding the program to be answered by April 13, 2018.
“Given all of these financial incentives – for students, schools and employers – it’s unsurprising that foreign student enrollment has exploded, while recent American grads are un- or under-employed. Unfortunately, our government has delegated much of the authority surrounding foreign student employment to the very individuals and entities that benefit the most, schools and school officials,” Grassley said.