Fake Schools Reveal Gaps In Oversight Of Student Visa Programs

Investigations of fake schools offering students from other countries opportunities to study in the U.S. reveal gaps in the oversight of student visa program administered by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE). Federal authorities have raided at least half a dozen schools for immigration fraud in recent years. The schools had obtained permission to admit foreign students, but they offered little or no instruction.

According to The Sacramento Bee, Brian Smeltzer, chief of the Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, said that last year his office flagged about 150 of the roughly 9,000 schools certified to accept foreign students for investigation. Many of the schools under investigation are in California, which has the highest number of foreign students. New York has the second highest number of foreign students.

Some schools are accused of staging phony graduation ceremonies and enrolling students under false pretenses. Fake schools can cause distrust of legitimate educational institutions and problems for their students. Students attending fake schools have been arrested for visa fraud and have lost thousands of dollars.

Tri-Valley University in San Francisco is reportedly one of the largest fake schools recently shut down. Susan Xiao-Ping Su, founder and president of Tri-Valley, was convicted of visa fraud, among other charges, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. She had spent more than $5.6 million she had earned on commercial real estate, multiple homes, and a Mercedes Benz.

Barmak Nassirian, director of federal policy analysis with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, is quoted as saying, “If anybody has any illusions there was one just bad apple, that’s not the case. There are plenty of them out there.”


Recent cases of schools committing visa fraud reveal gaps in ICE’s oversight of student visa programs, but fake schools may not be the only problem with the program. In September 2014, ABC News reported that ICE had difficulty tracking the students who entered the country on the student visa program.

According to the ABC News report, immigration officials struggle to keep track of the foreign students coming to the U.S. More than one million students enter the country each year with many overstaying their visas.

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2012 that ICE had not been verifying that school courses would be accepted by other institutions and had not been checking the schools for patterns that could indicate fraud. The agency reports that these issues have been resolved and they have developed a new verification process, and a tool to assess school violations.

Image: Immigrant Times