H.R. 3120: Student Visa Reform Act

H.R. 3120

Student Visa Reform Act

Date
July 31, 2012 (112th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 3120, the Student Visa Reform Act, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval.  H.R. 3120 was introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on October 6, 2011, and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, which held a mark-up and reported the bill, as amended, on June 28, 2012 by a voice vote. 

Bill Summary

H.R. 3120 would amend the definition of the “F” visa for foreign students to require that colleges and universities be accredited in order to host foreign students seeking to study in the U.S. on such visas.  The bill would expand the current definition of “accredited language training program” to include colleges and universities, and require that all such institutions be accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education.

The bill would give the Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to require accreditation of other academic institutions (except for seminaries or other religious institutions) if: 1) the institution is not already required to be accredited; 2) an appropriate accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education is able to provide such accreditation; and 3) the institution admits or will admit 25 or more F visaholders.

The bill would allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive the accreditation requirement if a college, university or language training program is otherwise in compliance with the requirements of the law and is making a good faith effort to satisfy the accreditation requirement.  H.R. 3120 would prohibit a person convicted of certain felony offenses, such as human trafficking or visa fraud relating to an academic institution’s participation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), from having subsequent ownership or substantial authority at an academic institution participating in SEVP.

H.R. 3120 would set the effective date for the Act at 180 days after enactment and would clarify that requirements under the bill would apply to applications filed after such date.  The bill would provide that during the three-year period beginning on the date of enactment, foreign students can continue to receive F visas to attend an unaccredited college or university so long as such institution: (1) submits an application for accreditation within 1 year after the date of enactment; and (2) continues to comply with the applicable accrediting requirements of the accrediting agency.  

Background

According to House Report 112-595, “a foreign national can come to the United States temporarily as a bona fide student qualified to pursue a full course of study solely for the purpose of pursuing such a course of study consistent at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in an accredited language training program in the United States, particularly designated by him and approved by the Attorney General after consultation with the Secretary of Education, which institution or place of study shall have agreed to report to the Attorney General the termination of attendance of each nonimmigrant student, and if any such institution of learning or place of study fails to make reports promptly the approval shall be withdrawn.”

“Such F visaholders were admitted to the U.S. over 1.5 million times during FY 2010.  The F visa program offers foreign nationals the chance to study at American colleges and universities and immerse themselves in American culture.  Unfortunately, some colleges and universities are undermining the laudable mission of this visa program by operating in order to engage in visa fraud.

“To curb such fraud, H.R. 3120 amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to require that colleges and universities be accredited in order to admit foreign students seeking to study in the U.S. on F visas. The bill also provides the Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to require that academic institutions (except for seminaries or other religious institutions) similarly be accredited before any such institution can host more than 25 foreign students on F visas.

“The process to obtain an F visa is as follows: The foreign national applies and is accepted to a U.S. college or university that is certified by the SEVP.  SEVP tracks and monitors the schools and the F visaholders while they are in the U.S. educational system, through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).  The school then provides the student with a Form I-20, the student pays the required SEVIS fee, and the student applies for the F visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country by submitting the Form I-20 and the other requisite paperwork and information. 

“H.R. 3120 builds on Public Law 111-306, which required the accreditation of English-language training programs before such programs can admit foreign students on F visas. Enacted on December 14, 2010, the law was intended to prevent fraudulent or fly-by-night English-language training programs from exploiting foreign students in the United States.

“As with Public Law 111-306, H.R. 3120 prevents fraudulent or fly-by-night colleges and universities from being able to exploit U.S. immigration policy and/or foreign students who are seeking bona fide educations in the United States.

“The bill was introduced after revelations concerning two institutions--the International Technological University in San Jose, California and Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, California--that were found to be ‘visa mills.’

“The term ‘visa mill’ refers to a distinctly illegitimate ‘school’ that 1) recruits foreign nationals to come on student visas and charge substantial fees for the F visas and/or 2) is established for the purpose of providing questionable education and essentially worthless degrees.  In many cases the foreign ‘students’ are complicit in the fraud, but in some cases they truly believe they are in the U.S. to attend a legitimate school.

“Regarding Tri-Valley University, according to the San Jose Mercury News, Tri-Valley demonstrates the riches that can be made from turning a school into a visa mill.  When Federal agents finally caught on, they discovered that the unaccredited school had been paid millions of dollars by foreigners to obtain student visas that authorize them to remain in the U.S- a scheme whose growth was fueled by a profit-sharing system that gave students who referred newcomers from abroad a 20 percent cut of the tuition, according to court records.

“Something else authorities found suspicious: More than 550 students enrolled in the Alameda County university were registered as living at the same address: a two-bedroom apartment on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale.

“Visa mills compromise the integrity of the secondary education system in the United States as well as the integrity of U.S. immigration policy.

“By requiring that visas for foreign students seeking to attend colleges and universities in the U.S. only be granted when the student attends an accredited school, H.R. 3120 will prevent illegitimate institutions from cheating foreign nationals who seek a bona fide education in the United States.  In addition, the bill's requirement will prevent colleges and universities from violating immigration law and potentially threatening our national security.

“H.R. 3120 also prohibits certain individuals who have been previously convicted of felony offenses, such as human smuggling and visa fraud, from owning or otherwise having a position of leadership in a new college or university that admits F visaholders.  Some individuals, who have previously been convicted of such crimes in connection with running a visa mill, simply open new ‘schools.’  H.R. 3120 will prevent that from occurring in the future.

“H.R. 3120 also allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive the accreditation requirement for a school that is otherwise in compliance with the requirements for a school that admits F visaholders and that is making a good faith effort to satisfy the accreditation requirement.  Such waiver is intended to be granted narrowly and on a case-by-case basis where there is no indication of fraudulent activity on the part of the school.”

Cost

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing H.R. 3120 would have no significant cost to the Federal Government.  Enacting the bill could affect direct spending and revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. However, CBO estimates that any effects would be insignificant for each year.

Under current law, foreign students may enter the United States temporarily to study at universities and other educational institutions.  Under H.R. 3120, such students could only attend accredited institutions.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) collects fees from educational institutions and students and spends those fees (without further appropriation actions) to cover the costs of administering the international student program.  The Department of State collects application fees for nonimmigrant visas issued to students and spends those fees on border security programs.  Enacting H.R. 3120 could reduce the number of institutions available to international students and decrease the amount of fees collected by DHS.  However, we expect that any reduction in collections would be offset by lower spending, so CBO estimates that the bill would not affect net direct spending.  Students from certain countries are required to pay additional visa fees based on reciprocity agreements between the United States and their home country; those fees are deposited in the Treasury as revenues.  CBO estimates that enacting the bill would affect few students and result in an insignificant reduction in revenues.