The hand-wringing that occurred after it was reported in the Wall Street Journal that the number of foreign student visas issued had fallen from 393,573 in FY2017 to 471,728 in FY2016 was fairly predictable. While many attributed the decline to causes ranging from higher travel costs, to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, few asked whether that might actually be a good thing.
Concerns raised about the Student and Exchange Visa Visitor Program in a March 22 letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) certainly point in that direction.
In his letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson, Grassley contends the program not only lacks adequate oversight, but invites fraud and abuse by permitting individuals at schools to handle the visa issuance process, rather than government immigration officials.
The Iowa Republican noted the Optional Practical Training program (OPT), an employment benefit that allows foreign students to obtain temporary work in their areas of study during and after completing an academic program, is allowing participating institutions to game the system and are harming American workers.
“These institutions, many of which operate as section 501(c)(3) (tax exempt) educational institutions, are costing American workers millions of dollars in lost taxes and employment opportunities, and contribute disproportionately to the large and growing population of foreign students and exchange visitors—nearly 80,000 in 2016—who overstay visas to remain in the United States without legal authorization,” Grassley wrote.
As of November 2013, about 100,000 of the approximately 1 million foreign students in the United States were approved to participate in OPT, which ironically does not involve any actual training.
The fundamental and structural flaws in the program and its management are nothing new.
In 2014, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report that cited DHS’s continued failure to implement recommendations from past audits, including an April 2011 study that found “some schools had attempted to exploit the immigration system by knowingly reporting that foreign students were fulfilling their visa requirements, such as attending school full-time, when they were not attending school or attending intermittently.”
There was also evidence that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not been monitoring whether the foreign students’ employment complies with their own regulations.
What are the real consequences improper oversight and lax monitoring of foreign students? As GAO notes in the 2014 report, the February 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center involved foreign students, as did the subsequent September 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.