Years after 9/11 U.S. Fails to Regulate Foreign Student Visas
Though a number of Islamic terrorists have entered the U.S. with student visas, the Homeland Security agency responsible for overseeing educational institutions that host foreigners rarely combats fraud or enforces laws that could help prevent future attacks.
Considering that two of the 9/11 pilots, the would-be Wall Street bomber and the Times Square bomber exploited the freewheeling student visa program to enter the country, this is an outrage. The alarming details are featured in a report published this week by a nonpartisan research organization dedicated to studying both legal and illegal immigration.
The probe focuses on the “sleepy agency,” the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), charged with regulating educational institutions that host foreign students and overseeing the foreigners once they’re here. They range from prestigious Ivy League universities to little-known language schools, corrupt visa mills and the very flight schools that helped train the terrorists who attacked the nation in September 2001.
In all, the SEVP oversees about 1.2 million foreign students and their dependents in addition to more than 10,000 educational institutions. The agency is generously funded with $120 million in fee revenue and a staff of 750. A congressional mandate requires the SEVP to recertify all of its institutions every two years, but it has only bothered to recertify 19% of them. This is especially worrisome because one out of eight institutions that issue foreign student visas has no accreditation, the probe found.
Regardless, SEVP rarely rejects an institution’s application for the authority to issue foreign student visas—known as Form I-20—then it sits on its rump issuing a measly 2.2 indictments a year of “visa mills.” These are shady businesses posing as authentic educational establishments that profit handsomely from collecting tuition in exchange for visas to enter the U.S.
Here is an example; a few years ago a south Florida language school got busted after easily tricking immigration officials into granting hundreds of visas to foreign nationals who posed as students. Practically none of the 200 foreigners who got the visas ever attended the hokey Florida Language Institute in each of the three years they were enrolled and most remain at large somewhere in the U.S.
In another alarming case, a Pakistani man indicted in Houston for aiding the Taliban and training with firearms for jihad against Americans, entered the U.S. with a student visa. He remained in the country long after the visa expired, became heavily involved in Texas Muslim groups and completed weapons and reconnaissance training at various area locations to terrorize Americans.
Around the same time an admissions clerk in the nation’s largest public university system got caught accepting bribes to fast track foreign students’ applications, many from the Middle East. The woman worked at one of the biggest schools within the California State University system, which has 23 campuses, a total enrollment of about half a million students and a faculty of 46,000.
After 9/11, the State Department vowed to clean up and heavily monitor the fraud-infested foreign student visa program precisely to avoid exploitations similar to the ones listed above. That’s because several of the 9/11 terrorists entered and lived in the U.S. with student visas and one of the attackers had enrolled—but never attended—a northern California language school similar to the one shut down by federal authorities in Florida years later.