US targets vocational schools in visa crackdown

Updated: 2015-03-16 10:44

By Paul Welitzkin in New York(China Daily USA)

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Federal authorities say they will continue to clamp down on vocational schools that fraudulently help foreigners obtain student visas following a raid in California last week.

Three people were arrested on charges of running sham vocational schools in Southern California that issued fraudulent paperwork enabling mainly Asians to stay in the country. The alleged scams netted as much as $6 million a year.

About 80 percent of the students involved were of Korean descent and 20 percent were from China, according to Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of homeland security investigations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Los Angeles.

"We find in the majority of these cases that the operators of the schools in question are usually a member of an ethnic group and target students from the same ethnic group," he told China Daily in an interview. He said that speaking the same language helps in recruiting and gaining the confidence of students.

Students from South Korea and China enrolled at Prodee University in Los Angeles and related schools but never attended classes, paying up to $1,800 for a six-month enrollment to get fraudulent paperwork in support of their student visas, according to a federal indictment.

International students who seek to study in the United States can obtain one of two types of visas, according to Rachel Canty, deputy director of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program at ICE. There is an F visa for students who are studying at a college or university, and an M Visa for students who will enroll in a vocational or trade school.

"M Visas are limited in duration to one year, while F visas are open for as long as the student needs to complete a course of study," Canty said.

"ICE visits every school that accepts foreign students twice a year. This is how we began this case in California," Arnold said.

Arnold said that many of the students in the schools are willing accomplices to the fraud. "They consider this method an inexpensive way to get into and stay in the US. We found that some of the students enrolled in Prodee were living in Hawaii or Texas."

Barmak Nassirian, policy analysis director for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities who has been following this type of activity for several years, said two types of students become involved with these schools.

"The first group is students who honestly believe that they will be obtaining an education at a legitimate school only to discover they purchased a lemon," Nassirian said in an interview. "The second group is in an institutional arrangement where there is fraud on the part of the student and the school operator."

Arnold and Nassirian said the vast majority of the schools involved in this type of activity are vocational or technical schools. Nassirian said part of the problem is that anyone in the United States can start a school and call it a university. "This can lead to confusion especially for those who have just arrived in the country."

Arnold said Chinese and other Asians are particularly vulnerable to this scheme. "China is a huge country and there are a lot of people there who want to live in the United States. I believe that they are a target market for these types of schools."

Arnold said student-visa fraud is a concern in the law enforcement community. "This is going on all over in the US. I have seen cases in Denver, Chicago and Virginia. We are concerned that this presents a huge challenge to national security. This could be exploited by people who may want to do great harm here."

Canty said the Student and Exchange Visitor Program maintains a website ( that contains information on the requirements for prospective foreign students and schools. Students must register with a designated school official within 30 days.

(China Daily USA 03/16/2015 page1)