WASHINGTON  -- Senator Chuck Grassley today said that it was clear that student visa laws  are being exploited to gain entry into the United States, and that reforms need to be passed by Congress and implemented.

            Today Grassley introduced legislation, the Student Visa Integrity Act, to help reduce fraud and abuse in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).  Current law requires educational institutions to be a part of the program before enrolling students from abroad.  According to the Brookings Institution, “The number of foreign students on F-1 visas in U.S. colleges and universities grew dramatically from 110,000 in 2001 to 524,000 in 2012.”  

            “While there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of student visas granted, Immigration and Customs Enforcement hasn’t made it a priority to keep tabs on these visa holders,” Grassley said.  “The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, September 11 and the Boston bombing should have taught us that this program needs vigilant oversight and reform, but instead the program has expanded without the proper safeguards in place.”

            Grassley’s bill is similar to provisions included in comprehensive legislation that passed the Senate last year.  He said that this is a non-controversial portion of the larger bill that will not only help root out fraud and abuse, but also help keep a check on terrorists attempting to use the student visa system to enter the United States and then disappear.

            The Student Visa Integrity Act:

•    Requires schools to be accredited by an appropriate accrediting body in order to be enrolled in the SEVP           program and to accept foreign students
•    Provides authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to immediately suspend school participation and access to federal databases if they are not compliant with reporting requirements or there is reasonable suspicion of fraud
•    Increases penalties for those who perpetrate fraud
•    Requires background checks on Designated School Officials (DSOs) and a requirement that they be nationals of the United States or legal permanent residents
•    Requires online training of DSOs every three years
•    Permanently bars DSOs who commit fraud from filing future student visa petitions
•    Ends a flight school’s SEVP participation if they are not FAA certified
•    Requires DHS to implement Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) II, an update to the antiquated tracking system currently in place

The current system for tracking and monitoring foreign students, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), was mandated by Congress after the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing where one of the people responsible was in the United States on an expired student visa.  The system was finally implemented in 2003 and has been undergoing a modernization effort, but the roll-out of the updated program was quietly scrapped in 2013.  The Student and Exchange Visitor Program and the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System are operated totally on fees, not taxpayer dollars.  Schools must pay to be a part of the program, and foreign students pay a fee for visa processing.