According to an ABC News investigation, “58,000 students overstayed their visas in the past year. Of those, 6,000 were referred to agents for follow-up because they were determined to be of heightened concern.” ABC found that “the number of foreign nationals obtaining visas to study in the U.S. has grown from 662,966 in 2003 to more than 1.2 million in 2012.”
Peter Edge, “the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official who oversees investigations into visa violators,” told ABC News that some of the foreign nationals “could be here to do us harm” and his “greatest concern is that they could be doing anything.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) told ABC News that foreigners with student visas just “get the visas and they disappear.” He “said since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, 26 student visa holders have been arrested in the U.S. on terror-related charges.” Some of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center attack had overstayed their student visas, but immigration officials continue to “grant schools certification to accept overseas applicants even if the schools lack accreditation, state certification, or any obvious measure of academic rigor.”
For instance, there are “more than 9,000 schools on the government approved list,” and many of the for-profit schools may be in the business of profiting off of visas.
“We know we have a lot of non-accredited universities that are using this system to bring people in, collect money, and not educate them at all,” Coburn told ABC News. “To me, it’s a mess.”
ABC found that “86 beauty schools, 36 massage schools and nine schools that teach horseshoeing” are on the approved list, and foreigners “can enter the U.S. on a visa to study acupuncture, hair braiding, or join academies that focus on tennis and golf.” It is reportedly up to these schools “to keep track of the visa-holder’s whereabouts” and “report to the government if they repeatedly miss class.” That may go against the business model of some of the schools.
For instance, the investigation found that “80 percent of the foreign students enrolled at MicroPower,” a career institute licensed in New York, “had delinquent attendance, putting them out of compliance with their visas. But the school did not report them.” ICE is reportedly hiring more agents to investigate these schools — years after they have been given approval to grant student visas. In the meantime ICE agents are reportedly “trying to locate every one of the 6,000 missing students,” but ICE still may not have sufficient resources to deport the students even if they find them.
Chris Crane, head of the ICE officers’ association, and Ken Palinkas, President of the USCIS agents’ association, have both repeatedly emphasized the federal government’s lax enforcement of its immigration laws, especially when it comes to visa overstays. Palinkas wrote last year that “large swaths” of the country’s immigration laws “are not effectively enforced for legal immigrants and visa holders” and Crane has testified that ICE lacks the resources and, as a result, “in most cases immigration agents cannot arrest persons solely because they have entered the United States with a visa and then overstayed that visa and failed to return to their country.”