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How Merc reporter cracked unaccredited schools luring foreigners

The closing of Tri-Valley University by federal authorities as a visa mill attracted television-news coverage in India, from which many of its students had come.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at a Bay-area college last year prompted some questions from Lisa M. Krieger of the San Jose Mercury News. Those questions led to a three-month investigation, in which she found schools  “building lucrative businesses by assembling student bodies comprised almost entirely of student-visa holders.” (PDF) Yet the schools are not accredited and their credits do not transfer to recognized universities.

She writes:

“Tri-Valley (University in Pleasanton, Calif.,) 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.”

Lisa M. Krieger, reporter, San Jose Mercury News

Lisa M. Krieger

She soon learned that many students had chosen their schools because the Department of Homeland Security had approved them.

Today’s Tip: Check the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System for colleges in your area, Lisa says.

She also suggests checking to see if schools are accredited. Reporters can use the Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs database.

Lisa also checked the schools’ IRS form 990 filings at Guidestar.org for revenue figures.

With all the legal issues surrounding the schools, getting people to talk was a challenge, Lisa wrote in a recent IRE Journal piece. She says she used online forums related to immigration and general topic sites such as Topix to “eavesdrop.”

In Featured, Investigation.

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