Government Fees for Foreign Students Should be Raised

Comments to the Office of Management and Budget on a DHS proposal

By David North on September 6, 2018

September 5, 2018

Docket No. ICEB-2017-0003
(Fees charged to foreign students and the institutions where they study)

Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs,
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20503

Attention: Desk Officer, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS

Dear Desk Officer:

This letter is one of the few that you will receive on the subject of higher fees for international students that does not relate to the financial interests of the author or the author's institution.

Unlike most of the letter writers on this subject, I will not be impacted by a higher fee, nor will any institution with which I am connected. I write as a citizen concerned about the lax administration of our foreign student program. The suggested fee changes, for individual students, and for those receiving tuition income from this program, should have been raised long ago (they were last adjusted in 2008), and they should be even higher than those proposed.

This is the case because aliens arriving on F, J, or M visas are much more likely to wind up in illegal status than other nonimmigrant visa holders generally, reflecting an overly casual and fund-starved administration of this program. These are the key numbers from the Department of Homeland Security's own "Fiscal Year 2017 Entry/Exit Overstay Report":

Overstay Rate
Nonimmigrants, visa waiver nations 0.51%
Nonimmigrants, non-visa waiver nations 1.91%
Aliens on student visas 4.15%

Overstays, to use the DHS term, are a subset of the illegal alien population, and they constitute a particularly invisible and expensive population for those seeking to enforce our immigration laws; unlike those entering without inspection, they rarely appear in groups; unlike the EWIs at the border, they are scattered all over the 50 states. Hence it is necessary to secure more funding to manage this group; traditionally this funding has come from fees charged to foreign students and the places where they study.

In addition to this basic piece of threat-scenario arithmetic, the increase in fees is needed to offset a series of crippling administrative and legislative restrictions that have made it much harder than it should be to curtail the extent of the overstays. These are some of the more obvious failings of the current foreign student (and foreign alumni) programs:

The United States does not:

  1. Send automatic notices to alien students when they are approaching, or have passed, the terminal date of their legal stay.
  2. Provide additional screening processes in the cases of those seeking to attend marginal universities, or coming from nations that are producing much more than their share of overstays, routine parts of the Australian policy. A majority of the foreign students coming to the United States from some nations become overstays, such as Eritrea (70 percent) and Chad (52 percent).
  3. Make a visible effort to curtail the activities of the visa mills, institutions that appear to be more interested in collecting tuition and enabling work permits for foreign students than in providing education. In contrast, New Zealand has closed scores of such places.
  4. Unlike the United Kingdom, whose government decides who will get the equivalent of our I-20s, the United States allows each of some 7,000 SEVP-licensed schools, from horse shoeing schools to Harvard, to make those decisions.
  5. Again in contrast to the UK, there is no centralized requirement (and testing system) in the United States to make sure that those coming to the United States have an adequate enough knowledge of English to absorb an education here.

Yes, in a sense, the additional $150 per student will bring in serious money, one hopes enough to produce a much more vigorous management of the foreign student program by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), but let's step back and get a little perspective on the amount of money involved.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there were 291,000 new foreign students in the 2016-2017 school year. Multiply that by $150 and you get $43,650,000.

But the $43,650,000 is overshadowed by the profits of just one highly controversial visa mill, Northwestern Polytechnic University in Fremont, Calif. NPU has a 99 percent or so foreign student population, more than 90 percent of its income comes from their tuition payments, and its profit margin in 2016 was $53,623,279.

This was not a fluke. In 2015 its profit margin was almost exactly the same, $53,529,081.

These numbers are drawn from the annual reports, the IRS Forms 990, for NPU, which, for some strange reason, is regarded as a charitable entity 501(c)(3) by the Treasury.

So even if the rate of the increase may appear to be high, 75 percent over a 10-year period, the result is that SEVP will get $10 million less through the fee increase in a year than the annual profits of just one of the marginal colleges that SEVP is supposed to oversee.

The fees charged to foreign students and to the institutions that profit from their tuition payments should be even larger than proposed.


David North, Fellow

Center for Immigration Studies