Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) - Revision of Form I-17

By David North on August 8, 2014

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)

Revision of Form I-17

Response of the Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, D.C., to a Request for Comments by the Department of Homeland Security

By David North, July 15, 2014

OMB Control No. 1653-0038


Federal Register Vol. 79, No. 117, Wednesday, June 18, 2014; pp. 34768-34769

Summary

This response is from the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, research organization; it is the only organization in the United States focused exclusively on the impact of international migration on American systems. It is also one of the very few think tanks in the U.S. that casts a critical eye on the role of educational institutions in the field of immigration. CIS is based in Washington, DC.

The Form I-17 leads the way to a designation of an entity, either non-profit or for-profit, to cause the admission of foreign students to its campus, and to the United States. A Form I-17, approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) of the Department of Homeland Security, can allow the institution in question to earn hundreds of millions of dollars and cause the admission, over time, of tens of thousands of aliens. This it does by issuing I-20 forms to individual alien students. The I-17 is, thus, a significant form.

Unfortunately, DHS seems to be remarkably ineffective in detecting visa mills and semi-visa mills that mis-use their power to issue the I-20 form, and thus facilitate the entry and the continued presence of illegal aliens. In order to strengthen the Department's hand in this area, we propose that the Form I-17 be augmented to shed additional light on a minority of entities that should be reviewed very carefully before they are given the right to admit aliens as foreign students.

Using our research-based sense of how the least of these SEVP-authorized schools work, we propose that the Form I-17 be revised to include:

  • more information on the owners and CEOs of for-profit schools,

  • more data on who controls for-profit corporate entities seeking approval,

  • and data on two simple variables not now present in the I-17: how many dedicated classrooms does the school possess? and is the school predominantly devoted to weekend classes (thus facilitating de facto foreign worker programs?)

Since our additional questions will impact only a small number of apparently marginal institutions, two or three percent of the SEVP universe at the very most, we have not attempted to calculate the additional minutes of form-filling needed for those entities.

Background

Before we get into the details of our revision proposals, it is useful to question the matter of how difficult it is for a member of the general public to examine the two forms of interest in this operation, the I-17 and the I-20, and to emphasize how little is asked of I-17 institutions in the completion of that form.

Access to the form. If members of the public were asked to comment on the IRS form 1040, or the DHS's basic naturalization form, the N-400, they could easily summon up a copy of the forms (and the instructions) on the Internet. For the links see here for the 1040, and here for the N-400.

A really skilled IT person might be able to do the same with the I-17 and the I-20, but this writer was unable to obtain a complete text of either form, in their current format, from the internet. What I could get, from one of those immigration law firms, is a nine-year-old version of the I-17 which still related to the Immigration and Nationality Service. I was also able to find a set of instructions on how to complete the current I-17, which gave hints as to its contents, but not the form itself. (It apparently has not changed much in a decade.)

Further, I could find no links to the form in either of the Federal Register notices.

Given that situation, I sought to reach out to the segment of ICE that was handling the request for comments; at first I was promised an e-mail version of the two documents, but they did not arrive. Numerous subsequent phone calls to the right office of ICE produced no results.

How can the public comment on a form, if the form is not made available? The foreign student industry, of course, has easy access to these forms – but the rest of us?

"Burden" on the educational institutions. These requests for comments always express a concern about the paper-work burden of the information collection system in question. The completion of the basic form, the I-17, is said to consume all of four hours, according to the Federal Register entry of June 18. Petition updates were reported as consuming 14.9 minutes.

Since the I-17 institutions play a major role in the migration of half a million students a year, and are granted the right to earn tens or hundreds of million dollars a year with this power it strikes us as totally appropriate that we suggest some additional questions on this form, perhaps enough questions to expand the current two-page document to two-and-a-half pages. None of these new questions will impact the vast majority of SEVP institutions, as the new queries relate only to the minority of for-profit institutions. There is, in short, no need to worry about a "burden" on these corporations.

Specific Suggestions

Owners. The most recent current form available on the internet, the old INS document, asks only this about the owner: "10. Name, address and telephone number of owner."

Additional questions should be asked about the owner's citizenship and his or her academic degrees (and whether or not the institution(s) granting the degree(s) are currently on the Department of Education's Database of Accredited Post Secondary Institutions and Programs).

Further, the following questions, largely drawn from the familiar civil service application, Form171, should be asked:

"Has the owner ever been convicted of, or forfeited collateral for any felony violation? (Generally, a felony is defined as any violation of law punishable by imprisonment of longer than one year, except for violations called misdemeanors under State law that are punishable by imprisonment of two years or less.) If so, provide details of time, place and charges.

"During the last 10 years has the owner forfeited collateral, been convicted, been imprisoned, been on probation, or been on parole? If so, provide details.

"Has the owner ever been convicted by a military court-martial? If no military service, answer 'no'.

"During the last 10 years has the owner, either personally or as a corporate officer been through bankruptcy? If so, provide details.

"Is the owner delinquent on any federal debt, including those arising from federal taxes, loans, overpayment of benefits and other actions, or from federally-guaranteed or insured loans such as student loans and home mortgages? If so, provide details."

The replies to these questions will provide the Department with a much clearer view of the owners of for-profit organizations seeking the power to cause the importation of alien students.

If a would-be GS-7 must answer these questions, why should not major, for-profit business owners, wanting to exercise roles in federal programs, have to answer similar ones?

Corporate Ownership of For-Profit Schools. The current form apparently (note the lack of availability of the copy of the form in question) will settle for the name of the corporation owning the school and asks no questions about the ownership of the corporation.

What is needed is a sure way to pierce the corporate veil. It is important for the public to know who is profiting from the for-profit schools that are working with these federal programs. Who are the owners of these entities?

In cases where the ownership of a school is a corporation, the following should be asked:

"Who are the five largest owners of the corporation? Provide full names, residential addresses and percentage of ownership."

Each of the largest owners would then be asked the same questions to be asked of the individual owner, as described above.

There is a need for this because the Department cannot make an intelligent decision about I-17 applications filed by for-profits if it does not know who will profit.

The lack of such information currently was high-lighted in a particular case of a for-profit school – one most people have never heard of – a couple of years ago, involving the F-1 OPT program.

That program allows alien college graduates to work in the U.S. for 29 months after graduation with heavy government subsidies unavailable to comparable U.S. college graduates. It is not well known that alien students, with degrees in one of the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) can work legally in the US for these 29 months – and at the same time neither they nor their employers have to pay payroll taxes. This can easily be a $10,000 grant to each student and each employer, and those defacto grants (tax breaks) are controlled by I-17 schools with no appreciable supervision from any federal agency.

And who produces the largest numbers of OPT aliens, benefitting from those tax breaks?

It is Stratford University, which had 730 or these alumni in 2010, or, as Computerworld pointed out, two times as many alumni with OPT tax breaks than all the Ivy League Universities combined. For the text of that article, see here.

And who owns Stratford University? The records show that it is the mysterious American Transportation Institute, Inc. of Falls Church, Va. Virginia state files show that it is privately held and they offer no light on who the owners are.

Number of Classrooms and number of books in the library. Educational institutions should be asked about the numbers of full-time, dedicated classrooms, and the number of books in their library, to give ICE evaluators a glimpse into the size (and the seriousness) of these operations.

These questions are important because they can be easily checked on a site visit, and they offer a minimal "burden" on the I-17 institutions.

Most schools will have more than, say, 20 classrooms, and there is no need to get the exact number of such classrooms, but a simple "twenty or more" would suffice; most institutions with libraries will have more than 5,000 volumes in them, and, again, "5,000 or more" will be a sufficient answer. It is only when the answers fall below those minimums that the responses become of interest.

Further, each for-profit institution should be asked if it offers the preponderance of its classes on weekends only. This will quickly identify schools that may be operating what appears to be foreign-worker programs as opposed to foreign-student programs.

Unfortunately, current federal regulations allow, with graduate schools, the students to begin full-time off-campus work immediately, and legally, under a version of the OPT program described earlier.

If the Department wants to know more about this practice, and the name of at least one SEVP-licensed institution that offers nothing but weekend classes, call me or e mail at the addresses noted below.


David North, 3113 N. Kensington St., Arlington, VA 22207; [email protected]" phone: (703) 241 1724.

This response was sent via postal mail to the Office of Chief Information Office, Forms Management Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 801 I Street, NW, Mailstop 5800, Washington, DC, 20536-5800. (We suspect the name of the entity is "the Office of Chief Information Officer" but we used the address supplied in the Federal Register)