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US senators propose anti-visa fraud bill

A cross party group of US senators has proposed new legislation to stamp out student visa fraud in colleges and universities, after a government report found serious flaws within the Student Exchange and Visitor Program, the federal body that oversees the student visa system.

Unaccredited schools could be removed from the visa system altogether

The new bill would increase penalties for those who run bogus colleges, boost oversight of unaccredited colleges in the visa system, and require an extra layer of state certification for those enrolling international students – a policy already causing friction for language schools in the states of California and New York.

Defending the bill Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, explained: “These are much-needed steps that dramatically reduce fraud and increase confidence in our student-visa program.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, released this month, found SEVP had failed to ensure thousands of educational institutions were operating within regulation.

Controls verifying colleges’ legitimacy to issue I-20 visas were found lacking, while many colleges had kept inadequate records of overseas enrollments. Loopholes concerning students working during their studies were also uncovered.

SEVP has also failed to recertify many of the 10,000 institutions in the student visa system, as it should have done on a regular basis since 2004. The Department of Homeland Security, which runs SEVP, has since admitted to a backlog of cases caused by staff cuts which could take until 2014 to clear.

The bill will concern some US educators, who feel tough visa policies have contributed to a decline in America’s share of the student market over the last decade. More controversially the senators, on DHS recommendation, are considering a provision in the bill excluding unaccredited universities and colleges from the visa system altogether. Some 1,250 schools could be affected.

“They are only training the foreign students once they receive permission from the government”

Not helping their their case another GAO visa fraud story made headlines this month, as overseas students were found to have enrolled and graduated from US aviation schools illegally, despite extensive post-9/11 efforts to vet student pilots.

The US Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which feels flight schools have been scapegoated, hit back last week, blaming communication breakdown between government agencies.

“Flight training providers have done their due diligence to provide all of the required documentation for review by government agencies,” Tom Zecha, AOPA manager of aviation security said. “They are only training the foreign students once they receive permission from the government.”

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