Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley directed a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and asked for information about a program that allows certain private institutions to manage visas for foreigners seeking enrollment in U.S. schools. According to a release from Grassley’s office, “The program is susceptible to abuse by entities that pose as education institutions in order to secure visas for tuition-paying foreign students. Those students are then able to obtain work permits, and are exempted from payroll tax requirements.”
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, managed by DHS, allows “designated school officials” to assist foreign students obtain three-year “practical training” work visas. According to the senator’s office, some of the institutions involved offer little, if any, educational opportunities to tuition-paying foreign students who are seeking work opportunities. The release said that the so-called “visa mills” seek to “profit from the foreign student tuition” but “face little governmental oversight when issuing work visas under the program, which is not available to American students.” The federal program also means a benefit to employers, who hire foreign students instead of Americans because neither the employer nor the foreign students are required to pay payroll taxes for the work.
In the letter to Secretary Nielsen, Grassley wrote, “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.”
The news release from Grassley’s office claimed that the federal program “creates a perverse incentive for the foreign students, the schools that recruit them and the employers that hire them, all of whom benefit from the program at the expense of American workers and taxpayers. There is no cap for the number of foreign students who can enroll in the program.”
Foreign students contribute to a growing population of non-immigrants who overstay their visas. In 2016, more than 79,000 foreign students overstayed their visas – an overstay rate nearly three times greater than that of the general non-immigrant visa population.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Grassley’s office identified several institutions that exhibited suspicious behavior. In the letter to Nielsen, he wrote:
“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 went on to state: .
"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."
Grassley asked a number of questions and demanded 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.”
In 2017, the non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies issued a report that showed that 55 universities and other institutions in the U.S. were issuing thousands of visas to foreign students willing to pay high sums. According to CIS, because an F-1 visa provides authorization and work in the U.S., it makes a system rife with abuse. CIS accused 55 institutions with more than 100 campuses across the country of being “visa mills,” dubbing them “the very dregs of higher education in this country.” According to the think-tank, the institutions provided F-1 visas and work permits to “tens of thousands of foreign ‘students,’ many of whom are really illegal aliens in disguise.”
Many of the institution had rates of foreign student enrollment as high as 95 percent.Seventeen of the schools are located in California, 11 in Florida, eight in Virginia; two each in Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, and Utah; and one each in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Puerto Rico.