U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged immediate passage of his bi-partisan legislation to increase oversight of the student visa program. Schumer's push comes after Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, a Bangladesh native, was yesterday arrested after attempting to blow up the Federal Reserve building in lower Manhattan; Nafis was here on a student visa. Schumer said that while the facts of this case are still being revealed, and there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Nafis's school, there are gaping holes in our student visa system that serve as a dangerous backdoor for foreign nationals to enter this country.
Schumer also called for a State Department Inspector General investigation into the issuance of the visa, and a Department of Homeland Security Inspector General investigation into whether ICE should have denied this individual's attempt to transfer schools.
"This foiled attack must serve as a wakeup call -- we need to shut down gaping loopholes allowing foreign nationals, some of whom may wish to do us harm, from entering the country through the student visa program," said Schumer. "While the facts of this particular case are still coming to light, we do know that thousands of people have entered this country through sham universities like hand out student visas like candy, and that practice must end now."
The legislation was introduced this summer by Senators Schumer, Claire McCaskill (D-MI), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Charles Grassley (R-IA), in the wake of a Congressional investigation and a Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject of "sham universities". The issue was raised after an enormous visa mill was discovered in California. 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.
A subsequent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report report found that the Tri-Valley case is part of a larger trend of sham schools defrauding the student visa program. In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress demanded that the Department of Homeland Security complete an audit of the roughly 10,000 schools in the U.S. that provide student visas. But the report found that eight years after the deadline for the completion of the audit, federal authorities have only recertified 19 percent of visa-issuing schools. Schumer said that the student visa program was, in the hands of bogus universities, serving as a dangerous backdoor for thousands of foreign nationals to enter the country.
Specifically the legislation, the Student Visa Integrity Act, would:
· Makes it a criminal offense, subject to a two year mandatory sentence, if a person makes a materially false statement or provides materially false information when petitioning to bring in foreign students;
· Allows for the immediate withdrawal of a participant in the student visa program if there's reasonable suspicion of fraud, requires the Secretary to withdraw a school if a school official is indicted for fraud, and permanently bars those convicted of being Designated School Officials in other institutions;
· Requires background checks on Designated School Officials, and training for these officials every three years;
· Requires the Department of Homeland Security to prohibit any flight school that is not FAA accredited (with Part 141 or Part 142) from bringing in foreign students, and prohibits schools that have not been licensed by the state to participate;
· Limits the program to accredited schools, prohibiting unaccredited schools from participation unless they are a "candidate" by an accrediting agency;
· Requires the Secretary to report to Congress in 6 months on progress made to recertify all schools in the program, and to implement the SEVIS II database to better track students and better respond to "red flags" within two years.
As of January 2012, more than 850,000 active foreign students were in the United States and 10,000 schools are approved to be enrolled in the Student Exchange Visa Program.