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Latino Daily News

Tuesday March 8, 2011

Senator Asks for Investigation into Student Visa Fraud at ‘Sham Universities’

Senator Asks for Investigation into Student Visa Fraud at ‘Sham Universities’

Photo: Sham University

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Today, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is announcing that she is calling for an investigation into the instances of student visa fraud through ‘sham universities’ that are providing a loophole in the immigration system for foreign nationals. Recent news reports have exposed ‘sham universities’ that are operating solely for the purpose of helping foreign nationals enter the country on student visas and not actually providing any discernable education.

“‘Sham universities’ are gaming the system, and while they are at it, they’re putting our nation’s security at risk,” McCaskill said. “This has got to stop.”

Fraud and abuse within the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) not only puts a stain on all of the schools that operate in an ethical manner, it also threatens our national security, by potentially allowing the admittance of those not seeking an education but instead looking to enter the country by any “legal” means. McCaskill is calling upon the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security to conduct an investigation into these instances of student visa fraud and uncover how such schools were able to legally issue student visas.

In 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Los Angeles revealed that two schools claiming to provide English-language education were in fact front operations designed to get student visas for prostitutes from Russia, along with other ineligible foreigners. Several other examples of ‘sham universities’ have been investigated in San Francisco and Florida. No similar situations have been identified in Missouri yet.

McCaskill is asking the inspector general to look into the current process for schools to become certified in the SEVP and how to improve the procedures to ensure that ‘sham universities’ will no longer be allowed by the Departments of State and Homeland Security to provide admittance into the United States. She is also working with her colleagues in the Senate to develop legislation to improve the agencies’ ability to fight immigration fraud and to strengthen the penalties for such schools.

McCaskill believes enforcing the immigrations laws currently on the books should be the first step towards fixing our broken immigration system. She has fought for tougher crackdowns on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers and some progress has been made as penalties for such employers have risen dramatically since 2007. Last year, McCaskill also passed a deficit-neutral law to provide $600 million in funding for additional border patrol agents and unmanned aerial surveillance to secure the southwest border.

The full text of McCaskill’s letter is below

Charles K. Edwards
Acting Inspector General
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Drive, SW, Building 410
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Mr. Edwards:

As you are well aware, the student visa program, officially known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), is a centerpiece of our nation’s legal immigration system. This program provides America the chance to impart our core values to future generations of leaders around the world. It also provides American institutions of higher-learning with needed infusions of capital from students willing to pay full tuition for the opportunity to learn in this country. However, the SEVP can be manipulated by those with impure motives, something that not only jeopardizes the program’s ability to thrive, but also could threaten our nation’s security.

I am particularly troubled by recent reports that the student visa program is being used by so-called “sham universities” to enable immigrants to enter our country illegally. It has been reported that several institutions, although approved by the Departments of State and Homeland Security, are only in operation for the purpose of helping illegal immigrants game our legal immigration system.

News reports in the past several months have exposed some particularly egregious examples of such “sham universities.” For example, in 2010 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Los Angeles revealed that two schools claiming to provide English-language education were in fact front operations designed to get student visas for prostitutes from Russia, along with other ineligible foreigners. In January of this year, ICE agents performed a raid at Tri-Valley University, in the San Francisco area. This unaccredited “university” was found to have charged over 1,500 foreign students over $5,000 per semester, while failing to provide any discernable education.

In light of these deeply troubling examples, I respectfully request that you conduct a review to determine: 1) current procedures that ICE and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have in place to detect risk factors for schools seeking SEVP certification; and 2) whether these procedures are adequate and the degree to which they are working. We would also welcome specific suggestions for improvements that can be made both at ICE and USCIS to improve the agencies’ ability to detect immigration fraud being perpetuated by a university.

Ensuring that the SEVP is properly administered is critical, particularly when one takes into account the security risks that could follow from sham universities providing an outlet for certain foreigners to enter our country illegally. It also makes a mockery of the many colleges and universities who properly use the system when a few bad actors abuse it. We look forward to your thorough review of this program and your suggestions for how we can ensure it works properly. Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.