GAO: Oversight Lacking In Foreign Student Exchange Program
July 17, 2012

SAN DIEGO -- In the post-Sept. 11 world, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is charged with making sure schools that accept non-immigrant foreign students are properly certified to do so and aren’t engaged in fraud.

But a Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday found ICE isn’t keeping up with the task.

More than 10,000 universities, private elementary and high schools, trade schools, and community colleges are certified by the federal government to enroll foreign students. The GAO asked to examine the files of 50 of these schools, at random, and found 30 of them lacked the proper paperwork.

For example, seven of the files included no report of a mandatory initial school visit.

Plus, seven out of 11 flight schools examined had expired certificates of operation from the Federal Aviation Administration.

ICE was unable to find two of the 50 files the GAO requested.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), the federal program allowing foreign exchange students to study here, came under scrutiny after it was discovered that several Sept. 11 hijackers had been students at U.S. schools. Official oversight of schools and students was supposed to be heightened.

But a number of fraud cases have come to light in recent years.

In 2010, a flight school based in El Cajon, near San Diego, and its former owners pleaded guilty to visa fraud and hiring illegal workers as instructors.

Last year, a northern California woman was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges she ran a fake university that was actually a front allowing foreign students to get visa documents.

In its report, the GAO issued a series of recommendations for improving oversight of the foreign study program. These include catching up on incomplete school files, and establishing a process to identify fraud risk at SEVP schools.

More than 850,000 foreign exchange students are enrolled in U.S. schools.

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