U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is leading a bipartisan effort to crack down on "sham universities" that knowingly break U.S. immigration laws and provide a back door for people to illegally enter the country.
Following a report by an independent watchdog that revealed a lack of federal oversight has permitted sham colleges and universities to award student visas to foreign nationals, McCaskill is leading a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing legislation to place strict requirements on the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and increase oversight of the program.
"Sham universities knowingly commit fraud, jeopardize our nation's security, and abuse an otherwise worthy visa program," McCaskill said. "For too long these institutions have broken the law and gotten away with it, but it's time to put the proper safeguards in place to ensure their schemes have consequences. This bipartisan legislation is another step in working to fully secure our nation's borders and keep our communities safe."
The Student Visa Integrity Act would make it a criminal offense if a person makes a materially false statement or provides false information when petitioning to bring in foreign students. The legislation would also limit the SEVP program to accredited schools and allow for the immediate withdrawal of a participant in the SEVP program if there is credible evidence of fraud.
The report by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that the fraud scheme could make the nation vulnerable to potential terrorists seeking to enter the United States. Requested by McCaskill and other Senators from both sides of the aisle, the report also found that a "significant number" of schools certified to give out visas to international students are not even certified by the state in which they operate. Of 434 flight schools that provide student visas, an astounding 167-or 38 percent-are not accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration. Two of the September 11th hijackers successfully applied for student visas to attend flight schools.
The Senators called for the GAO report last year after a high-profile case of a sham school in California surfaced in February 2011. Tri-Valley University had enrolled over 1,500 foreign students until a federal investigation exposed the school as a scam. Tri-Valley officials were caught giving F-1 visas to undercover agents, posing as foreign nationals, who explicitly professed no intention of attending classes. Students paid $5,400 per semester in tuition to the school to obtain those student visas until the school was shut down.
Since arriving in the Senate, McCaskill has repeatedly challenged both the Bush and Obama Administrations to strengthen employer enforcement programs and has fought for tougher crackdowns on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. Progress has been made as penalties for such employers have risen dramatically since 2007. McCaskill successfully 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.