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APRIL 7, 2016BY MENGZI GAO
FROM CHINESEORIGINAL STORY
[Editor’s note: Paul J. Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, and Sarah R. Saldaña, the director of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announced on April 5 that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) had set up a phony university called the University of Northern New Jersey to catch visa scammers. They arrested 21 brokers who had helped foreign students obtain visas in a “pay to stay” scheme that involved enrolling in the fake school. More than 1,000 international students registered at the school may see their visas revoked and possibly face deportation. Most of the brokers and students involved are from China and India. The World Journal published a story on April 6 to explain why and how international students participate in the fraud.]
The H1-B visa, a visa which allows international students to be employed in the U.S. following graduation, has been getting more and more competitive in recent years due to the limited quota set by Congress. Many who fail to obtain the visa [or have not found prospective employment] but still want to stay in the U.S. to try their luck the following year choose to go back to school to extend their student status. Those who are desperate to stay offer inspiration to some con artists. Shell schools are set up for the sole purpose of helping international students maintain their immigration status.
Some international students told the World Journal on April 5 that for those who are not able to obtain an H1-B, seeking help from some schools is the last resort that 80 to 90 percent of people would choose. Some immigrant lawyers and brokers even recruit students for the schools to make money. An industrial chain has already been formed.
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, in 2013 H1-B applicants exceeded the quota of 85,000, the first time since the financial crisis in 2008. And since then, the quota supply has failed to meet the demand of applicants. In 2015, 233,000 people filed applications, a record high that left 150,000 applicants empty-handed. They have to find alternatives if they want to stay in the U.S. This provided a huge commercial opportunity.
Xiaowen Wang, an international student who studies at a language school now and is waiting to hear back regarding his H1-B application, said on April 5 that he didn’t get an H1-B last year. And when he learned the result in May he consulted his lawyer and was told the best option was to go back to school to maintain his F1 student visa.
“I had gotten a master’s degree from New York University then. And I didn’t need to study any more. Going back to school was only to maintain my student visa status,” he said.
However, going back to a regular school would cost tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. What’s more, the strict requirements in academic performance would hamper his opportunity to keep working on Curricular Practical Training (CPT is temporary employment authorization offered to international students under certain conditions) for his employer who had agreed to sponsor his H1-B application in the next year. So Wang chose a language school.
He said the school’s curriculum looked quite intense. But the teachers never take attendance. He was told there are 30 students in his class. But every time he went to the class, only a handful of students showed up. The teachers never offered lectures. In class, students were just asked to study by themselves or watch English language movies. It has nothing to do with teaching or learning, he said. “I heard the teachers don’t even have licenses. But the students don’t care. We are not here to learn anyway. We are here to maintain status,” Wang said. “Also because of the easygoing style of the school, I was able to get my CPT easily and keep working for my employer.”
Wang said the school charges $3,000 for half a year and the application procedure is very simple. Basically, you’re admitted by only filling out a form. Once the student pays the fees, the school applies for the student to receive an F1 student visa. The visa is normally valid for half a year. “If in the next half a year, the students are still not able to get an H1-B, they will pay for another half a year or a year and their student visa will be extended accordingly. Some of my classmates have been maintaining their status like this for more than three years so far,” Wang said.
Wang also noted that there are many brokers who recruit students for these schools. Many of these brokers are immigration lawyers or educational brokerage firms. “I found this school via the lawyer who helped me file the H1-B application. The lawyers who do H1-B applications know best who might fail to get the visa among their clients. So they can accurately target these clients for the schools and get good commissions,” said Wang.
Wang is only one of the many Chinese students who maintain their status this way. They all know it is risky to do so. And even if they don’t raise red flags for inspectors of Homeland Security now, when they apply for H1-B again they could be questioned by immigration officials about why, in the past year, they chose to attend a school of much lower status than the school from which they graduated.
“But in order to get one more chance to apply for an H1-B and stay in the U.S. longer-term, we have to take the risk. The huge crowd of people who fail to obtain the H1-B visa, their desperation to get one more chance, and the lawyers and brokerages who help them find the shell schools have established a sophisticated business chain,” said Wang. “The problem won’t be easily solved by shutting down a few schools or putting some brokers in jail.”