Washington: Following in-depth investigations into scammed universities like the Tri-Valley, which ruined the life of several hundred Indian students, a US government watchdog on Tuesday slammed the Department of Homeland Security over its handling of widespread fraud in American educational institutions.
"The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has not developed a process to identify and analyse programme risks since assuming responsibility for the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP) in 2003, in accordance with internal controls standards and risk management guidance," the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report.
Within ICE, officials from SEVP and the Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU), which tracks, coordinates, and oversees school fraud investigations, have expressed concerns about the fraud risks posed by schools that do not comply with requirements, the GAO report said.
Investigators said identifying and assessing risk factors, such as the type of school, are critical to addressing potential vulnerabilities posed across the more than 10,000 SEVP-certified schools.
The GAO also alleged that ICE has not consistently implemented existing controls, in accordance with internal control standards and fraud prevention practices, to verify schools` legitimacy and eligibility during initial SEVP certification and once schools begin accepting foreign students.
As of January 2012, more than 850,000 active foreign students were in the United States enrolled at over 10,000 US schools.
ICE, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for managing SEVP and certifying schools to accept foreign students.
The Department of Homeland Security reports that the five countries with the highest number of active foreign students are China, South Korea, India, Saudi Arabia, and Canada.
These countries account for more than 50 per cent of the total number of active foreign students in the country.
Of active foreign students, 70 percent are enrolled in bachelor`s, master`s, or doctoral post-secondary programmes.
GAO report said that schools have sometimes attempted to exploit the immigration system by knowingly reporting that foreign students were fulfilling their visa requirements, such as maintaining a full course load, when they were not attending school or attending intermittently.
Giving examples of some of the frauds being conducted by the US-based universities foreign students, GAO said in the case of California Union University, foreign students stated they paid the school owner fees ranging from USD 600 to more than USD 10,000 for documentation enabling the students to fraudulently obtain visas and, in some cases, bogus degrees, despite the fact that they never attended class.
In the case affidavit, one student who purportedly received his bachelor`s degree in education from California Union University recounted how the school owner staged a graduation ceremony at the campus where students received their phony diplomas.
In the case of Florida Language Institute, foreign nationals who had been issued Forms I-20 - a key document required in obtaining a student visa - were not required to attend classes.
When ICE officials conducted a site visit at the Institute while the school was supposed to be conducting classes, no students were present.
The school had reported to ICE that 150 students attended class daily.
In other instances, school officials have run criminal enterprises that are tied to illegitimate schools, GAO report said.
For example, in the Tri-Valley University case in California, the owner was indicted for issuing fraudulent Forms I-20, which falsely certified that its students were required to attend a full course of study.
Investigators believe school officials were intentionally maintaining false information in SEVIS in an effort to acquire and maintain immigration status for students that were actually ineligible for that status, it alleged.
In the Tri-Valley University case, the school`s owner was indicted for issuing fraudulent documentation without regard for students` academic qualifications or intent to pursue a course of study required to maintain lawful immigration status.