Non-Accredited Language Schools Given More Time for F-1 Admissions

By David North on December 29, 2010

The enormous difficulty getting Congress to close even the most glaring loopholes in our immigration system was shown again this month in its feeble action regarding the controversial, visa-creating, English-language instruction schools.

One can study the English language in virtually every nation of the world, but the American immigration system insists on granting student (F-1) visas to nonimmigrants who have enrolled in just about any American institution that says it provides instruction in the language.

This policy has often proved troublesome in the past, as fly-by-night "language schools" have often been caught creating visas, but little instruction, as a previous blog indicated. That item quoted a New York Times article saying that a private, for-profit Florida entity "was a front for the sale of fraudulent applications for student visas"; ICE made more than 80 arrests in connection with this one entity.

While the admission of foreign students to legitimate institutions of higher education often provides real educational benefits to those students, often benefits they could not obtain at home, this cannot be said of those admitted to the English language schools.

Earlier this month, Congress took a baby step in connection with this problem.

Did Congress eliminate this dubious program entirely? No.

Did Congress limit the admissions of those wanting to learn English to already recognized institutions of higher education, including community colleges? No.

What Congress did was to begin a slow-motion process – one sure not to inconvenience the private for-profit language schools – that will eventually allow such visas to be issued only to people going to language schools accredited by an entity designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

There is already an all-purpose, and apparently not very tight, set of provisions for the Department of Homeland Security to list acceptable institutions for the issuance of the documents that lead to F-1 visas; Congress, apparently, decided that some additional governmental attention should be paid to the language schools.

While the additional screening notion is appropriate, there are two huge and fundamental problems with the bill's approach, one institutional and the other chronological.

According to the text of S. 1338, signed by the president on December 14, such institutions must be accredited by "a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education."

This is a little like saying that a Wall Street brokerage house must be acceptable to a national association of brokerage houses – only the really, really bad apples get sorted out by such entities. It is called "self-policing."

The regional and/or national accreditation organizations in the field of education have, over the years, been similarly reluctant to shut down questionable operations. They are routinely staffed by officials of the very educational institutions being regulated. Readers in the Washington area may recall how difficult, and time-consuming it was for the regional educational accrediting agency in charge to terminate the long-troubled Southeastern University, as reported by the Washington Post.

The other problem is the question of timing. The abuse of the F-1 visas by some language schools, apparently, will be allowed to continue for fully three and a half years.

The language in the bill, probably written by lobbyists for the industry, includes several delaying mechanisms:

  • The main thrust of the bill does not begin to go into effect until 180 days after signature, or in June of next year.

  • Then there is a three-year interim period before the full operation of the bill.

  • In the meantime (and the overlapping of these three delaying mechanisms is not totally clear, perhaps deliberately), one gets an F-1 visa, after the passage of a year (December 14, 2011) only if the sponsoring organization has "submitted an application for the accreditation of such program." (Emphasis added.)

Note that language schools do not need, within a year, to be accredited; all they have to do is to apply for the accreditation. Then the legislation apparently gives the language schools either two more years, or two and a half more years, for the accreditation process to play out.

The legislation apparently was bipartisan in nature, being introduced by Senators Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Its passage was noted in the Immigration Daily issue of December 27, but otherwise not reported in any news articles that I have seen.