US new bill pushes colleges to be accredited to have foreign students

In recent weeks, The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that the US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would require all colleges and universities in the US that enrol foreign students with the issuance of I-20’s to be accredited.

Lawmakers in the US approved the H.R. 3120 bill, making it mandatory for all institutions of higher education enrolling 25 foreign students or more, to have certified accreditation, nationally or regionally, that is recognized by the US Department of Education.

(Source: http://www.ndtv.com/)

This move comes as part of the effort by the US to close a major loophole in the foreign student visa system passed in the wake of 9/11 attacks, wherebyfraudulent colleges have taken in foreign students by the thousands by luring them the right to work in the United States. Senator Chuck Grassley said, “This is a national security matter. Foreign student visas were issued to terrorists who attacked the United States both in 1993 and on September 11.” Representative Zoe Lofgren lauded the approval of the bill by the US House of Representative, believing that the accreditation requirements will prevent unauthorized institutions from deceiving genuine foreign seeking education in the United States. He further added, “In addition, this requirement will prevent fly-by-night institutions from engaging in student-visa fraud to smuggle or traffic persons into the country.”

A group of international college students.

(Source: http://www.usnews.com/)

Following the infamous case of California’s Tri-Valley University – a bogus college that enrolled more than 1,500 foreign students – the US Department of Homeland Security has conducted investigations and recently, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report of its findings of the vulnerability of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The report found that there were inadequate investigative processes to help identify fraud and combat scams done by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for overseeing the student visa system. In fact, the report further stated that not enough was done to ensure the legitimacy of 850,000 foreign students that entered more than 10,000 colleges in the US. Of the 10,000 schools reported, 12.5% have no form of regional or federal accreditation.

According to the report, as of March 2012, only 19% of colleges taking part in the program were re-certified as of March 2012. Originally, institutions are supposed to re-certify in 2004, followed by every two years thereafter; however, officially, the process only started two years ago.

John P. Woods, Assistant Director of Homeland Security admitted during a recent Senate meeting that the SEVP has a long way to go to ensure all 10,000 schools in its system are thoroughly checked and verified. He added that while additional staff were hired to re-certify about 350 to 400 schools a month, SEVP did not previously have adequate funds for the re-certification initiative. He stated that 32% of colleges have been re-certified and said it may take an additional two more years to verify all the schools.

Next steps
So, what does the passing of the H.R. 3120 bill by the US House of Representative mean? Well, for one, if the bill becomes law, universities in the US will be given three years to adhere to the new accreditation requirement. However, the US Department of Homeland Security is authorized to waive the mandate if an institution displays genuine effort in earning accreditation while complying with the visa rules. For this bill, religious education institutions and seminaries are exempted.

The law would cover the following:
– Prohibit people with an immigration violation, including visa fraud or human trafficking, either through being a person of authority at an education institution to participate and approve in the visa system, or from having access to international student records;
– All unaccredited schools in the system will be visited by federal investigators annually;
– Ensure institutions in the system that enrol international students receive certification from their home states.

Senior public policy advisor at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Victor C. Johnson, believes the legislation is a move in the right direction as a “responsible” and “appropriate” action to tackle the problems in the US student visa system.

Such an accreditation system in the US only applies to independent English-language programs to enrol foreign student, a move pushed by language schools to clean out shady operators. With the move now trickling its effects to the international student visa system, it is evident that the US is taking hard steps to weed out fraud, protect its borders and safeguard its standing as a leading destination of high quality education.