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Top 10 of 2012 - Issue #7: Governments Crack Down on Student Visa Fraud

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Top 10 of 2012 - Issue #7: Governments Crack Down on Student Visa Fraud

As part of a broader Conservative Party pledge to more than halve net migration by 2015, the UK government passed an unprecedented – and highly criticized – set of rules that aim to crack down on student visa fraud. (Photo courtesy of Parker Knight)

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The United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada represent some of the most attractive destinations for international students seeking a world-class, internationally recognized education (see Issue #9: International Student Mobility Rises, and Countries Seek to Capitalize). Yet even as these countries and their universities recruit these global students—both for their tuition fees and their brain power—they undertook efforts in 2012 to crack down on student visa fraud as well as tighten requirements on educational institutions.

UK Government Tightens Student Visa Rules Amid Broader Strategy to Reduce Overall Migration

The United Kingdom currently has over 405,000 international students (around one in ten of all students globally who study outside their home country), generating an estimated £8billion a year in tuition revenue. As part of a broader Conservative Party pledge to more than halve net migration by 2015 (see Issue #1: Migration Flows Rise, Diversify as Global Economy Stumbles Toward Recovery), the government in early 2012 passed an unprecedented set of rules that aim to crack down on student visa fraud. The new rules, which were met with heated criticism, limit the number of years that non-European Union (EU) students may spend studying in the United Kingdom and restrict the number of hours they may work during their studies and after gaining their degrees. In addition, international students may no longer bring their spouses or children with them unless they are enrolled in a postgraduate course lasting over a year. Universities also face new responsibilities to keep track of their foreign students in exchange for the right to sponsor them. In September, the UK Border Agency revoked the London Metropolitan University's license to sponsor non-EU students, affecting over 3,000 overseas students (though the courts intervened to allow the university to teach existing students through the end of the academic year). The university is challenging the UKBA action, which the agency said it took because LMU was not making proper checks on its overseas students' credentials or class attendance.

New Zealand Also Acts and Canada May Be Poised to Follow Suit

With an international education industry that hosts approximately 100,000 international students annually and is worth $2 billion, New Zealand also has been undertaking student fraud investigations. Immigration New Zealand in July uncovered 300 student applications from China that contained some form of fraud, whether fake qualifications or falsified bank statements. Immigration New Zealand said its inspectors were engaged in ongoing investigations targeting "high-risk" private training establishments.

The Canadian government also is mulling ways to tighten rules on student visas in hopes of eliminating fraud, similar to the steps taken by the United Kingdom. A proposed rule published by the Canadian government in summer 2012 outlined its plan to identify foreign nationals who arrive on a student visa but instead of enrolling seek work instead.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Canada is the only major international student destination that lacks checks to ensure those who arrive on student visas are attending legitimate institutions. Kenney also expressed concern that human-trafficking groups may be assisting young people to obtain student visas only to lure them into the sex trade once they arrive.

In 2011, Canada issued more than 98,000 student visas, a 34 percent increase from 2007. By some estimates, international students contribute nearly $7 billion yearly to the Canadian economy.

U.S. Fears of Diploma/Visa Mills Comes to the Fore

The United States is the world’s top destination for international students, with 764,495 foreigners enrolled in colleges and universities in 2012. Questions of potential student visa fraud preoccupied the U.S. Congress during 2012, even as lawmakers also were weighing legislation to grant lawful permanent residence to international students who gain advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing that cast a skeptical eye on the performance of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in verifying the credentials of institutions that enroll international students. In August, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, the Student Visa Reform Act, requiring certain educational institutions sponsoring nonimmigrant student visas to be endorsed by a recognized accrediting agency.

U.S. focus on international students began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when investigators discovered that two of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the United States on student visas to attend flight school. Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that of the 434 flight schools that provide U.S. student visas, 38 percent were not accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Flight schools are not the only ones under scrutiny. In 2012, ICE raided and shut down a Sunnyvale, CA school, Herguan University, for alleged visa fraud. Most of its business and computer science students were from India.

Even as governments in immigrant-receiving countries tighten their policies, efforts are underway in sending countries to protect their students when they venture abroad.

With a growing number of Indian students being duped by unaccredited universities or facing discrimination, the Indian government is formulating plans to help stranded students. India's Human Resource Development Ministry announced it would launch an online portal in early 2013 to establish a direct link with Indians studying abroad. The government's efforts were sparked by a number of cases of abuse, particularly the 2011 shutdown of California-based Tri-Valley University, which stranded hundreds of Indian students. The university was not properly accredited.

Amid Crackdowns, Some Countries Pass Circumspect Student-Retention Policies

Amid the policies to reduce student visa fraud, some student destinations are actively encouraging student retention through their visa policies. Upon election in May, French President François Hollande repealed a controversial measure passed under the predecessor Sarkozy government that imposed stiff visa restrictions on foreign students and graduates. In December 2011, the German government announced a new directive that eases restrictions on labor market access for overseas students before and after graduation.

And in the United States, a number of bills have been introduced in Congress to provide more work visas for graduating international students, including a widely supported measure to ease the post-degree migration pathway for those with advanced qualifications in science, technology, engineering, or math (see Issue #5: The Stars May Be Aligning for Break in Long-Running Stalemate over Major U.S. Immigration Policy Reform). In the United Kingdom, despite a broader effort to reduce the volume of international students, the government in early 2012 introduced a new program to allow up to 1,000 graduate entrepreneurs to stay in the country to work on a business idea.

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