Students of Terror: F-1 Program Is Still a Serious National Security Threat

In 2001, most Americans became aware of the F-1 student visa. Hani Hasan Hanjour, the terrorist who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, had entered the U.S. as an F-1 student in order to attend flight school. The 9/11 Commission noted that the student visa program was vulnerable to abuse and recommended that security measures be tightened. But as images of the World Trade Center collapse faded into memory, student visa security disappeared from public consciousness.

However, the F-1 program has remained a pipeline for immigration violators. The Obama administration was unable to locate 6,000 foreign nationals who disappeared after entering the U.S. on student visas. And at least 26 student visa holders have been arrested on terrorism charges since 9/11.

The F-1 visa is back in the news. Yahya Farooq Mohammad, a native of India, entered the United States on a student visa. From 2002 to 2004, he was enrolled in an engineering program at Ohio State University. He then obtained a green card when he married a U.S. citizen. He recently pleaded guilty to terror financing charges and conspiring to kill the judge presiding over his trial.

Mohammad’s case illustrates the problems associated with the student visa program. Individuals wishing to study in the U.S. are subject to minimal vetting when they apply for visas.  Once in the United States, they undergo virtually no supervision by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In fact, ICE delegates this responsibility to schools enrolling international students and simply monitors student records submitted online.

This is problematic because many foreign students simply enter the U.S., fail to show up for school, and remain here unlawfully. ICE rarely conducts spot checks at schools and almost never goes looking for students who have violated their status. So, non-compliant F-1’s can simply stay in the U.S. for years, with little fear of detection. It is no wonder the F-1 visa has proven a popular option for terrorists seeking to access the United States.

In addition, there are very few restrictions on what international students are allowed to study in the United States. Some of the hard science, engineering, and vocational training programs  that are popular with international students also happen to provide the skills required to build weapons of mass destruction. As a result, the U.S. sometimes provides those who would harm it with the training required to mount an attack. Hani Hasan Hanjour is a case in point, he learned to pilot a commercial airliner at a flight school in the United States.

U.S. institutions of higher learning have a legitimate interest in attracting international students. Educational exchange promotes the free flow of ideas, as well as business and trade. But the security of the American public should trump those interests. Too often public safety has been sacrificed to create economic advantages for schools and colleges. If President Trump truly wants to keep American safe, he should direct the Department of State to review and revise its student visa security procedures, and order ICE to begin regular audits of F-1 program compliance. Otherwise, the U.S. may get an unwelcome schooling at the hands of well-educated terrorists.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    will someone please explain why REFUGEES FROM TERRORIST COUNTRIES ARE BEING HIRED AS POLICE ???? Case of Justine Damon killed by Officer Noor of Minnesota PD !!! Justine was from Australia was gunned down in cold blood by a SOMALI COP !!!! This is a International incident .Prime Minister from Australia demanding Answers Now ,AND SO SHOULD WE !!!

  2. avatar
    Alicia sotelo on

    peter whoever u are don’t u have something better to do then harass citizens with LEGITIMATE COMPLAINTS !!!!! u are on the payroll of the DEEP STATE aren’t U !!!

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  4. avatar
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    was a criminal alien.”

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    Border Patrol officials attributed the uneven progress across sectors to multiple factors, including terrain,transportation infrastructure on both sides of the border, and a need to prioritize resource deployment to sectors deemed to have greater risk of illegal activity.”

    “A 2011 Government Accountability Office report said U.S. Customs and Border Protection considered 873 miles of the almost 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico under “operational control” in fiscal year 2010.Those are areas they classified “as those in which it has the ability to detect, respond, and interdict illegal activity at the border or after entry into the United States.”

    “Operational control was broken down into two definitions: “Controlled” areas had enough agents to either deter or detect and apprehend illegal entries immediately at the border. We must note this still doesn’t mean a 100 percent apprehension rate, but controlled status accounted for 129 miles, or about 15 percent of those 873 miles
    under operational control. The other 85 percent were considered “managed” areas, where agents could still identify and apprehend most entries from as far as 100 miles away.

    The other 1,120 miles of border — the 56 percent of the total border to which Carson is likely referring — fell under two other definitions. The report said nearly two-thirds was considered “monitored,” meaning illegal entries were likely to be detected, but resources or accessibility could make responses difficult. The other third was labeled “low-level monitored,” defined as regions where detection and interdiction were constrained by few resources or poor infrastructure.

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  5. avatar

    Paranoia …. Everything is a threat….

    Matt I have seen those F-1 visa students and for them to come to the US…basically practically IMPOSSIBLE unless they are the best smartest, financially above American average and can prove they will go back to their countries..and the ones that stayed became Americans…scientist professors…..just like you ancestors….

    you said

    “Mohammad’s case illustrates the problems associated with the student visa program.”

    not at all accurate,,,,the visa has been proven beneficial for us…..what has changed is the scrutiny so that we do not get terrorists and the bad people which is hard to tell…..even our own get twisted…..

    It is more like:

    “Our F1 visa student screening needs to be stepped up!!!”

    Researching to write such a complex topic is tough…….

    • avatar

      The F-1 program has proven to be beneficial to Islamic terrorists and spies, and it is a major hole in our security system. It is time to stop taking students from Muslim countries where jihad and sharia law are popular, which is most Muslim countries. Also, it makes no sense to take in Chinese students as China uses this program to send spies to the USA. Having ICE review this program is necessary, as most schools do not report foreign students who stopped attending classes.

      • avatar

        what you are talking about is exactly what I said……scrutiny…I think you speak a different language……

    • avatar

      Guess I must have imagined the 9/11 Islamic terror attacks and the many other attempted and thwarted Islamic terror attacks that have occurred in the USA since then. This program is a big hole in America’s security system and must be reformed.