Three Grim Items at the Intersection of Immigration and Education

By David North on August 31, 2017

Three bits of information — all unrelated to each other and all grim in nature — popped up this week in the arena where education and immigration mingle:

  • A Chinese college student was deported for hiring someone else to take her pre-admission English test;
  • A Midwest school is offering F-1 visas and work opportunities to alien graduate students who need to be on the campus only two out of 56 days; and
  • One of the U.S. territories, finding that the H-1B program for teachers does not allow sufficient exploitation of its foreign teachers, is moving toward a different and more employer-friendly foreign worker program, the J-1.

So we have, in three neat packages, an alien student cheating the system, a graduate school at least stretching the rules beyond recognition, and a public school system trying to exploit foreign teachers more than it could in the past. It does not quite fit the rosy picture that is shown by the promoters of international education and their good friends in an obscure DHS entity, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

According to a news story (partially blocked by the Law360 paywall), "Xiaomeng Cheng ... [said] she conspired to defraud by having someone else use her identification and take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to get into Arizona State University."

A federal judge ruled that she had to be deported. In contrast to many aliens in trouble with the law who tie up the courts for years battling such rulings, Cheng showed up in the courtroom with her suitcase in hand, ready for the flight back and providing the only light note in these unpleasant stories.

The school with the rigorous attendance demand — that you have to be in the classroom for two whole days every eight weeks — is the Kansas City, Kan., campus of Ottawa University. A promotional internet presentation reads:

Day 1 CPT

Masters of Business Administration - Information Technology

24 Month program with 6 semesters

Travel to campus every 8 weeks for weekend class

and shows a contented looking male foreign student.

"Day 1 CPT" means that an alien student admitted into this program, since it is at the master's level, can start off-campus work immediately under the government's laxly enforced Curriculum Practical Training program. One is supposed to only work part-time in CPT, but many students work full-time and more. And clearly you do not have to take a job in Kansas if you can fly or drive in every eight weeks.

Since the two days are back to back, the Ottawa University grad student needs only to spend one in 56 nights on or near the campus to be regarded as a resident student.

Whereas Cheng was clearly breaking the law, Ottawa University's study-once-every-two-months program probably is in keeping with SEVP's casual administration of it. Ottawa is simply taking advantage of a remarkable stretching of already loose regulations.

Moving from students to teachers, we have the interesting/depressing situation of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) school system, which is supported by some federal aid funds, but mostly by USVI taxpayers. The islands (I used to be with the Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs) are close to bankruptcy after decades of over-spending and under-taxing its businesses and people, patterns that were supported for years by the not-very-perceptive Mainland bond market, which should have noticed these island practices, but did not until quite recently.

Further, the USVI Department of Education has been remarkably unsuccessful in writing applications for federal education funds and spending them within federal guidelines — even when dealing with non-competitive grants.

So the islands cannot pay their teachers much and anyone who qualifies as a teacher in the USVI can probably qualify on the Mainland, where salaries are much higher. So they leave.

USVI Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum complained to a local news website:

Our teachers are not satisfied with their financial outlook and years of stagnant wages and are simply leaving the territory. As we have explained previously, teachers leaving the territory give no advance notice and routinely submit their resignations at the end of their summer vacation.

The article continues:

As a result, Ms. McCollum said [the islands] must make every effort in utilizing the J-1 Visa program, which allows teachers from foreign countries to live and work in the U.S. for three years. Previously, D.O.E. utilized a H-1 Visa program that gave a maximum of 6 years. However, the program collapsed because the educators would leave the territory for better opportunities on the mainland, according to Nicole Jacobs, head of HR at D.O.E., during the 2017 school year.

The USVI schools have thus reminded us that the H-1B program is not the worst of the nonimmigrant worker programs when it comes to exploiting foreign workers. The lightly regulated J-1 program — managed by those distant overseers at the State Department — can be worse (or better, from the point of view of employers).

In this case the difference is the nature of the indenture; in the H-1B program a worker can transfer from one employer to another, although this is not easy. Such a transfer cannot happen in the J-1 program. Those admitted, usually for three years, must stay with their employer or risk deportation.

There has been some use of the J-1 program to recruit foreign teachers on the Mainland. One such program in the Baltimore area created a multi-dimensional mess when it brought in, and mistreated, six not-very-distinguished teachers from the Philippines. The experience showed everyone involved in a bad light, including the schools, the teachers, the middleman agency, and the U.S. tax system.

The USVI government is not a particularly skilled one. There is, for example, a good way to prevent teachers from informing their bosses that they are leaving the schools at the end of their summer vacations, presumably to milk the last nickel out of the teachers' paychecks.

The solution: Leave teachers' salaries the same, but pay them over a course of 10 months, ending in June, rather than paying over 12 months, ending in August. Then there would be no motive for not telling the principal that you are leaving until late in the summer.

But the USVI educators prefer the J-1 approach.