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More Than 1 in 3 Flight Schools That Admit Foreign Students Are Not Even Accredited By FAA—Two 9/11 Hijackers Had Applied for Student Visas To Attend Flight Schools

A Decade After Congress Mandated Audit of All Schools That Issue Student Visas, Feds Have Only Recertified 19% of Schools; Three Sham Universities in New York Already Shuttered But Are Just Tip of the Iceberg

Schumer Announces Hearing, Legislation to Stop Fraud In Student Visa Program


U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) released a disturbing report by the independent Government Accountability Office revealing that the federal government has unknowingly permitted sham colleges and universities to award student visas to foreign nationals. The GAO report warns that the fraud scheme could make the nation vulnerable to potential terrorists seeking to enter the United States, similarly to what two hijackers who participated in the 9/11 attacks did.  Schumer, along with Senators Diane Feinstein and Charles Grassley, called for the report last year after a number of cases of sham schools were discovered in the United States, including many in New York. The report found that a “significant number” of schools certified to give out visas to international students are not even certified by the state in which they operate. Of 434 flight schools that provide student visas, an astounding 167—or 38 percent—are not accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration. This finding is especially worrisome since two of the 9/11 hijackers successfully applied for student visas to attend flight schools.


“The report shows that more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, the student visa program remains dangerously vulnerable to terrorists,” said Schumer. “These sham schools are providing a dangerous backdoor entrance to the United States. The bogus school in California exposed last year was really just the tip of the iceberg."


In New York, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has already shut down three sham universities and is investigating others. In 2006, ICE closed Centurion Professional Training, Inc. in Brooklyn and Career Education International Group, Inc. in Manhattan. In 2007, ICE closed down GT Solution, Inc., also located in Manhattan. ICE is investigating currently operating sham universities in New York.


The GAO report was requested after a high-profile case of a sham school in California surfaced in February 2011. Tri-Valley University had enrolled over 1,500 foreign students until a federal investigation exposed the school as a scam. Tri-Valley officials were caught giving F-1 visas to undercover agents, posing as foreign nationals, who explicitly professed no intention of attending classes.  Students paid $5,400 per semester in tuition to the school to obtain those student visas until the school was shut down.


The GAO report found that the Tri-Valley case is part of a larger trend of sham schools defrauding the student visa program. In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress demanded that the Department of Homeland Security complete an audit of the roughly 10,000 schools in the U.S. that provide student visas. But the report found that eight years after the deadline for the completion of the audit, federal authorities have only recertified 19 percent of visa-issuing schools. The New GAO report can be found here.

In response to the report, Schumer announced Tuesday that the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security will be holding a hearing on July 24 to assess Congress’ options for reform of the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).  Witnesses at the hearing will include Rebecca Gambler, the author of the GAO’s report, and John Woods, Assistant Director for National Security Investigations at ICE.   


Schumer plans on introducing legislation to implement many of the GAO report’s recommendations. Among other provisions, the planned bill would: require schools and universities to be certified by the state in which they operate before they can issue student visas; require flight schools to be certified by the FAA before they can issue student visas; bar schools from issuing student visas while they are under federal investigation, and; stiffen penalties for officials involved in the operation of sham schools.


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