Student and Exchange Visitor Program Fees Should be Higher

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

By Jessica M. Vaughan on October 8, 2018

The is a Comment on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau (ICEB) Proposed Rule: Adjusting Program Fees for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program

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I am writing to comment in support of the Department of Homeland Securitys proposed fee increases for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, Docket No. ICEB-2017-0003. 

First, it is imperative that the fees be sufficient to cover the appropriate level of administrative and enforcement costs for the program, so that taxpayers do not have to subsidize visa programs that mainly benefit foreign visitors and the institutions hosting them (rather than the country as a whole), that contribute to illegal immigration and that potentially pose a national security risk. SEVP fees have not been adjusted since 2008, so this change is long overdue. 

It is not appropriate for taxpayers to absorb the projected $69 million shortfall in 2019 if the fees are not raised. There are significant interior enforcement costs for ICE associated with finding these students and visitors who overstay their visas, and with monitoring the institutions that host foreign students and exchange visitors. Currently, ICE only receives approximately 5% of its total funding from fees, with the rest dependent upon appropriations from Congress. Higher student fees would mean tens of millions more dollars for ICE to help mitigate these costs. 

According to the DHS Entry Exit Overstay Report, in fiscal year 2017, there were nearly 70,000 instances of student/exchange visa overstays. The overstay rate for student/exchange visas was more than triple the overall temporary visa overstay rate. For some countries, rates of student/exchange visa overstays were very high; 52 % of student/exchange visitors from Chad and 70 % of student/exchange visitors from Eritrea, for example, failed to leave the country on time. 

This is an unacceptably high level of non-compliance that must be addressed through enforcement efforts supported by these fees. SEVP collects the information that generates actionable enforcement leads, and also provides information to policy makers and the public about non-compliance in these large and often-exploited visa programs. 

Besides undermining the integrity of our visa system, overstays contribute to the problem of illegal immigration, distorting labor markets, displacing US workers from jobs, and imposing a fiscal burden on communities. 

Overstays also are a potential national security threat. Nearly 15,000 of the student/exchange visitors who overstayed are from countries associated with terrorism. These visas are valued by terrorists because they offer long-term entry into the United States. Several of the 9/11 hijackers obtained them, and since 9/11 a number of other terrorists entered on student visas, including Faisal Shahzad (the 2010 Times Square bomber: and Hosam Maher Husein Smadi (who planned to bomb a building in Dallas in 2009: SEVP is vital to alerting immigration authorities of aliens who do not show up for their academic or exchange program, who drop out of it, or who overstay.

The student visa program also has a serious problem with fraud. Under the current system, some dubious institutions have obtained authorization to issue I-20 forms to help aliens get student visas under false pretenses and for private financial gain ( My organization estimates that as many as 40,000 aliens may have secured student visas under these schemes and likely remain in the United States. This is flagrant fraud and exploitation of our system, and the fee funding will give ICE more resources to address it. 

Finally, the funds are needed to boost oversight of the controversial Optional Practical Training program, which has enabled hundreds of thousands of aliens to obtain work permits after entering on a student visas. SEVP lacks the capability to effectively track them, where they are working, and whether they are complying with the terms of their admission ( This represents an obvious security risk and leads to program abuse. 

The additional fee revenue will gnot be an unreasonable burden on the institutions. Foreign students are a major cash cow for many U.S. educational institutions, bringing in an estimated $39 billion per year. The proposed fees, adding just hundreds of dollars to the certification fees, are a tiny fraction of the revenues from foreign student tuition. Similarly, exchange program sponsors reap millions of dollars in revenues from the programs, and should be expected to bear a fair price to regulate them to help ensure that they are properly administered and safe for America. 

Jessica Vaughan
Center for Immigration Studies