By Lourdes Santos Tancinco
Philippine Daily Inquirer
11:22 pm | Saturday, September 7th, 2013
After the Sept. 11 tragedy, student visa holders in the United States have been under the watchful eye of federal agencies. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is diligently enforcing its own rules against student visa violators and schools who abuse the immigration process regarding foreign students.
While China has the most number of foreign students actively in US schools, there are also quite a number of Filipinos. Just like other nonimmigrants, some Filipino student visa holders have also become victims of unscrupulous school owners.
The Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is the agency that administers the student visa program. Last week, ICE reported that an owner of a school in New Jersey, PC Tech Learning, admitted to having committed widespread foreign student visa fraud. The owner, identified as Somalingam, was said to have conspired to obtain student visas for foreign students even if they were not eligible. The school owner also did not report to DHS the visa status of its students, as required by immigration and security regulatons. The owner confessed to “conspiring to commit visa fraud and conspiring to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain which carries a penalty of 10 to 15 years imprisonment.
While problem school owners may be subjected to investigation and face criminal liabilities, what about the students who encounter visa problems due to the fact that they unknowingly enroll with a problem school such PC Tech Learning? Will they be removed from the US? Are there other options for the student victims of these schools?
Student visa status
Considering that foreign students are strictly monitored, any holder of a student visa (F1 or M) must avoid violating visa status. If the student visa holder is not enrolled, the ICE and the Customs Border Protection (CBP) will be able to determine this immigration violation through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System or SEVIS. Under this system, schools are required to provide regular electronic reports to ICE on each student. SEVIS information is accessible to ICE, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, US Embassies and customs and border police at all ports of entry. Hence, if the student is not enrolled in school or fails to pursue his or her studies while on a student visa, all these agencies are notified. A Filipino student visa holder who is travelling back to the US after a brief summer trip to Manila may be held at a port of entry if there is a flag on his or her SEVIS record. Usually a red flag is generated if there is a termination of studies or some other violation of visa status.
Abuse by school owner
One must be vigilant in choosing an educational institution to enroll in.
Aside from a school’s failure to report the visa and enrollment status of students, other common violations include: allowing the student to engage in employment that does not comply with the regulations. Problems may also arise when schools allow the foreign student to take a big number of classes online. There is a limit to the number of online classes that a student visa holder may take—no more than one online class not exceeding three units can be taken during each academic term. Failure to take a full course load without the permission of a designated school official is also a violation of student status. There are only a few enumerated grounds in the law that exempts one from taking a full course load every semester.
A student visa holder is expected to show proof of financial ability to pay for his or her tuition and daily sustenance. When the student arrives in the US, he or she is expected to take on a full course load and not engage in unauthorized employment. Employment may be authorized only in certain circumstances. For example, the student may engage in Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT). The CPT employment will be authorized only if the student has been enrolled in a program for one full academic year or the employment is a requirement of the graduate program. A student may be granted OPT for one year, usually post graduation.
A student visa holder is usually held at a port of entry because there are violations on his or her record. There is always the option for reinstatement of the student visa if the violation occurred within the last five months. In the event that the student no longer wishes to pursue studies and was a victim of an unscrupulous school owner, he may apply for a change to nonimmigrant status but must explain the circumstances that led to his being victimized by the school. Otherwise, the best approach is careful planning and being diligent in the choice of schools.
Atty. Lourdes Tancinco may be reached at email@example.com or at 7211963 or visit her website at www.tancinco.com
Tags: Department of Homeland Security , Filipino , Immigration , Student Visa , United States , US , visa
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer’s Reader’s Advocate. Or write The Readers’ Advocate: