Silicon Valley Schools Facing Immigration Issues

The San Jose Mercury News reports that at least two of Silicon Valley's unaccredited universities could be gaming the F-1 student visa system. According to the article, a university in Sunnyvale and one in San Jose cannot show that they actually satisfy the regulatory criteria to enroll international students on F-1 visas, despite being on the ICE list of schools approved to issue F-1 visas. This comes on the heels of the F-1 visa escapades with Pleasanton's Tri-Valley University, now closed and under investigation.

The Mercury News article explains that the universities in question are neither accredited by any agency with accrediting authority, nor are their credits accepted by other accredited schools. Without being accredited or having credits accepted by other accredited schools, these schools should not be approved to enroll F-1 students.

But international students can be big business for schools, since schools can charge full tuition. According to the article, the Tri-Valley University investigation revealed that the school had been paid millions by foreign students to obtain student visas. Unlike other visa categories, there is no cap or limit on the number of F-1 visas issued each year. The U.S. Department of State statistics show that in 2010, U.S. Consulates issued 385,210 F-1 visas. The potential for an unlimited number of international students, coupled with the high tuition fees that can be charged, provide an opportunity to create U.S. schools in the business of enrolling international students.

When schools aren't accredited or when other schools will not accept their coursework, the F-1 students ultimately lose out. Many F-1 students come to study in the U.S., with plans to obtain an H-1B work visa and work in the U.S. However, a degree from an unaccredited university will not qualify for an H-1B visa. Opponents to the F-1 program point anecdotally to the number of students who end up working in low-skilled jobs. The tragic case of Mr. Prasanth Goinaka was highlighted in the San Jose Mercury News article. He was an international student enrolled at San Jose's International Technological University. Although enrolled at San Jose's ITU on an F-1 visa, Mr. Goinaka was working at a convenience store half-way across the country in Oklahoma City where he was shot and killed during a robbery.

The answer to the problem of "sham universities", as they were called by Senator Dianne Feinstein in her March 2011 letter to USCIS Director Mayorkas, is not to close down the international student program. International students include the smart innovators and entrepreneurs that helped build Silicon Valley and will continue to do so. Instead, there should be greater oversight on approving and monitoring the schools that can enroll international students.

Immigration Reform / by Michelle Gee