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Ms. ZOE LOFGREN of California. I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this bill, the Student Visa Reform Act.
Our U.S. student visa program has a long and proud history. For decades, it's helped American colleges and universities attract some of the brightest young minds in the world, while offering those students the opportunity to study in the world's leading institutions of higher education.
The benefits to our country have been great. International students have expanded and enriched the educational experiences for all students at U.S. universities and colleges. And by immersing foreign students in American culture, the program often creates a lasting and favorable understanding of our country that pays dividends in foreign nations for years to come.
Unfortunately, some institutions have been undermining the laudable mission of this visa program. Last year, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took down two schools in California after they were found to have engaged in widespread visa fraud and exploitation of students.
Among other things, these schools misled students as to their accreditation. They lied about the ability of students to transfer credits to other institutions. Commonly known as ``visa mills,'' these schools took enormous sums of money from the students but provided questionable academic courses and essentially worthless degrees.
To prevent this type of fraud in the future, H.R. 3120 requires that colleges and universities be accredited in order to host foreign students. Such accreditation would need to be given by a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education. Seminaries and other religious institutions would be exempt from this requirement.
This bill follows in the footsteps of legislation enacted in the 111th Congress that requires the accreditation of language training programs before they can host foreign students. That bill, sponsored by my good friend, Representative Barney Frank, and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Congressman Lamar Smith, has already helped the Department of Homeland Security crack down on fraud in language training programs.
Like the Frank-Smith bill, the accreditation requirements instituted by this bill will prevent illegitimate institutions from cheating foreign students who legitimately seek a bona fide education in the United States. In addition, this requirement will prevent fly-by-night institutions from engaging in student visa fraud to smuggle or traffic persons into the country.
Finally, in committee, I worked with the chairman to add a provision that would prevent persons who have committed certain crimes from owning or running an academic institution that seeks to host foreign students. Persons would be barred if they had been convicted of human trafficking, transportation for illegal sexual activity, alien smuggling, or harboring or visa fraud under the student visa program.
We also added a provision to give the Secretary of Homeland Security additional flexibility with respect to schools that are playing by the rules and trying to get accreditation but may be running into bureaucratic delays. Specifically, the Secretary is given the ability to waive the accreditation requirements in cases where an educational institution is otherwise in compliance with the law and is taking good faith steps to obtain accreditation.
I thank Chairman Smith for working with me to bring this bill to the floor and for working with me to improve and strengthen the bill in committee. I urge my colleagues to support the bill.
I yield back the balance of my time.
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