WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Senators Chuck Schumer, Claire McCaskill and Dianne Feinstein, introduced legislation, known as the Student Visa Integrity Act, to help reduce fraud and abuse in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Under current law, educational institutions must be a part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program before enrolling students from abroad.
Congress mandated that a system be developed to track and monitor foreign students when it learned that one of the people responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was in the United States on an expired student visa. The system, the Student Exchange Visitor Information System, was finally implemented in 2002 and is currently being modernized. The Student Visa Integrity Act builds on the Student Exchange Visitor Information System to shut down sham schools and make it even more difficult to commit fraud with a student visa.
“An independent investigation confirms that the Department of Homeland Security isn’t adequately monitoring schools, especially flight schools. Educational institutions should be held accountable for enrolling people who haven’t met the requirements of our immigration law,” Grassley said. “This is a national security matter, and a lesson should have been learned in 1993 and on September 11.”
Once a foreign student has been accepted to an approved U.S. educational institution, the school issues a form I-20 for the student to present to the U.S. consulate when applying for a visa. The Student Exchange Visa Program requires educational institutions to input certain data into the Student Exchange Visitor Information System when the student arrives on campus. That information, such as courses of study and attendance of the foreign students, is then relayed to the Department of Homeland Security to help the agency monitor schools, programs and students.
Specifically, the Student Visa Integrity Act:
• 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 SEVP 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 improve the program, and implement SEVIS II 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.