Senate Holds Hearing on Student Visa System
The Senate’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security held a hearing on July 24, 2012, on “Strengthening the Integrity of the Student Visa System by Preventing and Detecting Sham Educational Institutions.” Witnesses included Rebecca Gambler, Director, Homeland Security and Justice, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and John Woods, Assistant Director for National Security Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Ms. Gambler discussed findings from the GAO’s June 2012 report assessing ICE’s oversight of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The GAO reported that ICE does not have a process to identify and assess risks posed by schools in SEVP. Specifically, SEVP does not (1) evaluate program data on prior and suspected instances of school fraud and noncompliance, or (2) obtain and assess information from Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) and ICE field office school investigations and outreach events.
Moreover, the GAO found weaknesses in ICE’s monitoring and oversight of SEVP-certified schools that contribute to security and fraud vulnerabilities. For example, the GAO noted that ICE has not consistently implemented internal control procedures for SEVP in the initial verification of evidence submitted in lieu of accreditation. In addition, ICE has not consistently followed the standard operating procedures that govern the communication and coordination process among SEVP, CTCEU, and ICE field offices.
The GAO recommended that ICE, among other things, identify and assess program risks, consistently implement procedures for ensuring schools’ eligibility, and revise its standard operating procedure to specify which information to share among stakeholders during criminal investigations. Ms. Gambler reported that ICE concurred with all the recommendations the GAO made and “has actions planned or under way to address them.”
Mr. Woods said that ICE has already made progress in implementing the GAO’s recommendations. He noted that ICE’s CTCEU is “the first national program dedicated to the enforcement of nonimmigrant visa violations.” SEVP and CTCEU execute complementary missions to regulate foreign students and exchange visitors and to proactively develop investigations that bolster national security, he said.
Mr. Woods noted that each year, CTCEU “analyzes the records of hundreds of thousands of potential status violators using information from SEVIS and the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology database, along with other information.” The CTCEU resolves these records “by further identifying potential violations that would warrant field investigations, establishing compliance, or establishing departure dates from the United States. Since the creation of the CTCEU in 2003, analysts have resolved more than two million such records.”
- Ms. Gambler’s testimony is available in “Student and Exchange Visitor Program: DHS Needs to Take Actions to Strengthen Monitoring of Schools” (PDF).
- Mr. Woods’ testimony (PDF).
- The main hearing page, which includes a link to a webcast of the hearing.