While the immigration dialogue — including on-camera negotiations in the White House — has been focused on DACA and chain migration, the very worst of the visa mills have quietly scored a victory in the Senate appropriations bill.
Some background is needed. Visa mills are colleges licensed by our sometimes lax Department of Homeland Security to admit foreign students. The schools usually have 100 percent admission rates and attract alien students who are more interested in the off-campus work permits they grant than in any on-campus education offered. Some of these schools have no, or virtually no, citizen students.
Further, the alien students, both while attending school and upon graduation, cause their employers to receive a 7.65 percent subsidy for hiring them. The subsidy is for aliens only, and resident college grads (citizens and green card holders) do not bring that subsidy to their new employers.
This remarkable subsidy is a benefit of the Optional Practical Training program, perhaps the only federal program that pays employers to discriminate against potential citizen employees, as we have reported earlier.
The program grants the subsidy by excusing both alien workers and their employers from the usual payroll taxes; this subsidy goes to both alien Harvard grads and to those aliens with shabby diplomas from places like recently shuttered visa mill the American College of Commerce & Technology in Falls Church, Va.
Until recently, dozens of visa mills secured accreditation from a single source: an entity run by the for-profit-education interests themselves, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). ACICS was widely criticized for having overly permissive standards and it was de-recognized by the U.S. Department of Education a little over a year ago, on those grounds.
Schools that were dependent on ACICS accreditation were placed in a grey area for an 18-month period in which they remained more or less accredited; they have until June 2018 to find another accreditor. Some of those schools have found one, but others, presumably the weakest of the lot, have not.
That's where the Senate appropriations bill comes into the picture. It extends this grace period for another 18 months. By definition it applies only to those institutions that could not get another accreditor in the first 18 months; in other words, those at the very bottom of the higher education barrel.
The following is the key provision; it is in Section 313 of S. 1771:
The period of time provided to the Secretary in section 498(h)(2) of the Higher Education Act may be extended up to an additional 18 months for institutions where the Secretary withdrew recognition of their accreditor on December 12, 2016, if the institution does not remain with or reapply to the accrediting agency which accredited the institution on December 12, 2016.
Fortunately, as far as we can tell, this "give 'em 18 more months" language is not in the House version of the bill.
If this situation persists after both houses pass the spending bill, the issue will come up in the conference committee, along with a number of more prominent disagreements between the House and the Senate. In ideal circumstances, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee — during conference negotiations — will demand that the House position on this matter (i.e., no extension) should prevail.
Alternatively, the chairman could introduce language in the House bill that would include the Senate's 18-month extension, with a proviso that no student or alumnus of the schools granted the extension would be eligible for the OPT subsidy described above.
That committee chair is Rodney S. Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).
Will the House prevail on this issue, or will the Senate? Stay tuned.
The author is grateful to his CIS colleague, Preston Huennekens, for his research assistance.
Disclosure. The Frelinghuysen-North relationship goes back a long time, though the congressman is probably unaware of it. He and I both grew up about three miles apart in a pleasant rural/suburban bit of New Jersey, Harding Township. Further, I was my party's sacrificial lamb candidate against his father (the late Peter H. B. Frelinghuysen, Jr.) for Congress 60 years ago. Both father and son were, and are, Republican moderates and squeaky clean on ethics issues — particularly valuable in New Jersey. The current congressman was in about sixth grade when I ran against his father.