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Problems still abound in student visa program

Fraud risks in schools registered to help process visa applications.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement still does not have systems in place to verify if schools are fraudulently providing paperwork for foreigners seeking student visas within the United States.

A Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday found that case files of many institutions certified by the student and exchange visitor program lacked the necessary evidence required by regulations. The report also found that 38 percent of flight schools, which are required to register with the Federal Aviation Administration, had not done so.

Under SEVP, schools must receive Homeland Security Department certification to accept foreign students on F or M visa classifications. As part of its agency mandates under Homeland Security, ICE is required to verify that schools seeking certification under SEVP are not fraudulent institutions designed to provide easy access for visas. Foreign nationals applying for a student visa can obtain their visas only after being accepted at a SEVP-certified school and undergoing administrative procedures at a U.S embassy. According to the report, the State Department issued nearly 457,000 educational visas in fiscal 2011.

“ICE has not developed and implemented a process to identify and analyze program risks since assuming responsibility for SEVP in 2003, making it difficult for ICE to determine the potential security and fraud risks across the more than 10,000 SEVP-certified schools and to identify actions that could help mitigate these risks and reduce schools’ noncompliance,” the report stated.

The report was requested by Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; who sought information on the mechanisms behind the student visa process. It was commissioned in the wake of a 2011 scandal at Tri-Valley University of Pleasanton in California, which was found to have granted student visas to hundreds of foreign visitors without actually providing an education. In another episode, government agents in November 2011 arrested Karena Chuang for operating a fraudulent flight school outside Los Angeles.

In a statement to The New York Times, Schumer emphasized the work that the agency  had to do to fix the student visa system.

“The report shows that more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, the student visa program remains dangerously vulnerable to terrorists,” Schumer told the Times. “These sham schools are providing a dangerous, back-door entrance to the United States.”

The student visa system was reformed substantially after Sept. 11. Several of the 2001 terrorists had attended U.S. flight schools on student or visitor visas.

The GAO report included a series of guidelinesfor ICE to reform its systems and ensure that accuracy is maintained in the process of certifying schools and visas. In a statement released by Schumer’s office, the senator planned to use GAO’s recommendations for future legislation involving the agency. 

(Image via VIPDesignUSA/Shutterstock.com)

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