DC Shuttle: Cracking Down on Visa Fraud

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security held a hearing on preventing student visa fraud and addressing “sham” institutions that commit fraud to attain visas and enroll foreign students. The hearing was held in response to a report released last month by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticizing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as not adequately investigating, identifying and combating fraud in student visa applications. At Tuesday’s hearing, Rebecca Gambler of the GAO testified that ICE had no procedure in place to evaluate the success of the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). ICE is in the process of recertifying institutions, but John Woods, the assistant director for National Security Investigations at ICE, reported that only 32% had been recertified since 2010. The process was supposed to be completed by 2004, but Woods said that because of a lack of funding, it did not begin until 2010. Woods added that it could take two more years to complete. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said that schools and colleges that are not accredited should not be eligible for certification for the student visa program. Subcommittee Chair Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he intended to introduce legislation with Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) that would impose stricter penalties for those who commit fraud by enrolling students in sham schools. The bill would also require that unaccredited schools be visited by federal investigators annually and that institutions enrolling foreign students be certified by their home states, according to Sen. Schumer.

Following the release of a Private Student Loans Report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on July 20, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection held a hearing Tuesday to address ballooning private student loan debt. Democrats on the Committee suggested regulation of the private student loan market was necessary and even said they would consider one of the report’s recommendations allowing student borrowers to discharge debt in bankruptcy. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) has introduced the Fairness for Struggling Students Act (S. 1102) that would allow borrowers to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy, but Republicans on the Committee expressed concern with that idea and with new regulations. Also in the wake of the CFPB report, the Department of Education released a “shopping sheet” on Tuesday that the Obama Administration developed with help from the CFPB. The “shopping sheet” is a model financial aid letter that the administration believes will increase transparency in the student loan process. The letter is intended to “help students understand the type and amount of aid they qualify for and easily compare aid packages offered by different institutions,” according to the Education Department. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he hoped pressure from students, parents and peer institutions would push colleges to adopt the standardized financial aid letter but added that he anticipated resistance from many schools.

On July 22, it was reported that the New Hampshire Board of Education plans to submit a waiver application to the Department of Education for an exemption from the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). According to New Hampshire Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather, the state would submit an application during the third round of submissions, due in September, with the hope of having it enacted for the next school year. Though the state Board of Education had issued a statement in February saying it did not intend to apply for a waiver, Leather explained that subsequent discussions with federal officials led New Hampshire to believe there would be flexibility regarding the provisions of a waiver. Federal waiver requirements stipulate that approved applications will include teacher evaluations applicable to all districts. In New Hampshire, teacher accountability systems are determined by each district. The newly reported proposal would allow New Hampshire to establish recommended guidelines for teacher evaluations that would not need to be implemented.

As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of July 30, 2012.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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