GAO Uncovers More Visa Fraud, Possible National Security Threat

Published on March 14th, 2014

On March 7, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a 48-page report that uncovered fraud in a popular work program for foreign-born students.

Image of a U.S. immigration visaCreated in 2008 by President Bush and without congressional approval, Optimal Practical Training (OPT) allows students on F-1 visas to obtain temporary work in their major fields of study both during their undergraduate work and after graduation. Key word: “temporary,” which is defined as no more than one year.

Under Bush, USCIS approved 28,500 students. Five years later, more than four times the original total, 123,000, are enrolled. Unless they qualify for OTP, and few are denied, F-1 students cannot accept off-campus employment; on-campus, their hours are limited to 20 during the school year.

At the request of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the GAO studied how OPT is implemented and how students are tracked. The GAO found that many foreign students, often with the assistance of their universities’ faculty and in violation of the guidelines, work outside their specialized areas. Moreover, the federal government can’t locate thousands of these students and has no idea who may be employing them or why they’re still in the U.S.

The GAO report concluded that while Immigration and Customs Enforcement has taken “initial actions” to identify the overall risks associated with OPT, it hasn’t started the analytical process that would enable it to assess potential national security risks.

Accordingly, in his letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Grassley demanded an immediate moratorium. Grassley noted that Faisal Shazad, a Pakistani-American now serving a life sentence for building a car bomb he left in Times Square, took advantage of OTP.

ICE doesn’t know where the disappeared students can be found or if they’re plotting terrorist attacks. But another important question during this period of sustained high unemployment is, if they are working, have they displaced recent American college graduates?

According to a January Federal Reserve of New York study, many underemployed graduates have taken low-paying jobs like retail clerks or bartenders that don’t require a college diploma. In 2001, graduates’ underemployment rate was 34 percent; in 2012, it increased to 44 percent.

The unknown thousands of missing students demonstrate the folly of unnecessarily enhancing provisions in an already too generous, frequently abused visa system. The fraud also underlines the need for a visa entry-exit system that has been stalled since the late 1990s. America must be assured that its overseas visitors, whether here on work-related, student or tourist visas, leave when their specified time period expires.

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