All College Student (F-1) Visa Fraud Comes in Three Parts

By David North on July 25, 2011

Recent news reports reminded me that all higher education immigration fraud, through the massive F-1 visa program, is divided into three parts:

  1. There are the individual students who drop out of legitimate universities to become illegal aliens on their own;



  2. There are visa mills which are distinctly illegitimate establishments; they recruit would-be illegal aliens, and, in effect, charge them substantial fees for their F-1 visas; or they operate marginal operations more keyed to profits than to education; and



  3. There are more rarely, or more rarely caught, employees of legitimate universities who misuse their positions to facilitate the conversion of legitimate foreign students into illegal aliens.

Aliens on F-1 visas are supposed to be attending recognized academic institutions, full time, and have only limited rights to work while in that status. If they work when they are not supposed to, or drop out of their classes, they become illegal aliens.

I suspect that the listing above shows, in descending order, the size of the three different F-1 abusing populations. The individual dropouts are the hardest to catch, because each is a one-off phenomenon; there usually are no ties to other people similarly placed or to organized activities. Given the lack of a tracking system for nonimmigrants within the country, something that Congress has been fuming about for years, the authorities have no handy ways of detecting this kind of illicit activity. (The little, poverty-stricken, Third World country of Fiji has had this capability for decades, but the mighty U.S. does not. Go figure.)

Similarly, with only the most limited efforts to enforce the immigration law within the nation, the F-1 abusers are rarely caught unless they run afoul of the law in some other way.

The visa mills, like any wholesale criminal activity, are more obvious than straying individuals and the larger these mills become the more likely they are to be detected.

A particularly gross example of a visa mill was closed recently by ICE; that was Tri-Valley University near San Jose, California. The following is from an excellent, in-depth report on “Universities or Visa Mills” by Lisa Krieger of San Jose’s Mercury News on July 16:



Tri-Valley demonstrates the riches that can be made from turning a school into a visa mill. When federal agents finally caught on, they discovered that the unaccredited school had been paid millions of dollars by foreigners to obtain student visas that authorize them to remain in the U.S. -- a scheme whose growth was fueled by a profit-sharing system that gave students who referred newcomers from abroad a 20 percent cut of the tuition, according to court records.

Something else authorities found suspicious: More than 550 students enrolled in the Alameda County university were registered as living at the same address: a two-bedroom apartment on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale.


I have been paying at least some attention to the interaction between immigration policies and higher education for more than twenty years and often thought about, but never heard about, a legitimate university employee, say in the International Students’ office, using that position to facilitate blatantly illegal immigration practices. There may be much more of those shady practices than meets the eye.

This month the United States Attorney’s Office in Charlotte indicted Thomas C. Briggs “for helping dozens of foreign nationals to stay in the U.S. illegally” according to a brief story on a local television station.

Briggs, two years earlier, had been fired by his employer, the University of North Carolina Charlotte. He had, according to the account “led Homeland Security officials to believe that 66 foreign students were properly enrolled and maintaining a full course of study, but investigators said in reality they weren’t.”

Neither the news item nor the government’s “Bill of Information,” which can be seen on the federal courts’ electronic data system, PACER, has much to say on what he did, beyond using his position to “enter false information in the SEVIS system,” nor on whether any money changed hands. SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System is the huge computer system used by ICE to keep track of F-1 and J-1 aliens.

It is apparent from the ICE press release, though not stated so baldly, that the University discovered the problem and alerted federal authorities. Two years after Briggs was fired, he pled guilty and remains free on bond until sentencing. His arrest does not sound like a DHS enforcement coup.