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Student and Exchange Visitor Program: DHS Needs to Take Actions to Strengthen Monitoring of Schools

GAO-12-895T Published: Jul 24, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2012.
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What GAO Found

In summary, we reported that ICE does not have a process to identify and assess risks posed by schools in SEVP. Specifically, SEVP (1) does not evaluate program data on prior and suspected instances of school fraud and noncompliance, and (2) does not obtain and assess information from CTCEU and ICE field office school investigations and outreach events. Moreover, weaknesses in ICE’s monitoring and oversight of SEVP-certified schools contribute to security and fraud vulnerabilities. For example, ICE has not consistently implemented internal control procedures for SEVP in the initial verification of evidence submitted in lieu of accreditation. In addition, ICE has not consistently followed the standard operating procedures that govern the communication and coordination process among SEVP, CTCEU, and ICE field offices. 

We recommended that ICE, among other things, identify and assess program risks; consistently implement procedures for ensuring schools’ eligibility; and, revise its standard operating procedure to specify which information to share among stakeholders during criminal investigations. ICE concurred with all the recommendations we made to address these challenges and has actions planned or under way to address them.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses the findings from our June 2012 report assessing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) oversight of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). ICE, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for managing SEVP, including ensuring that foreign students studying in the United States comply with the terms of their admission into the country. ICE also certifies schools as authorized to accept foreign students in academic and vocational programs. As of January 2012, more than 850,000 active foreign students were enrolled at over 10,000 certified schools in the United States. In addition, ICE manages the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which assists the agency in tracking and monitoring certified schools, as well as approved students. We reported in April 2011 on the need for close monitoring and oversight of foreign students, and that some schools have attempted to exploit the immigration system by knowingly reporting that foreign students were fulfilling their visa requirements when they were not attending school or attending intermittently.

Schools interested in accepting foreign students on F and M visas must petition for SEVP certification by submitting a Form I-17 to ICE. Once this certification is achieved, schools issue Forms I-20 for students, which enable them to apply for nonimmigrant student status. The Border Security Act requires DHS to confirm, every 2 years, SEVP-certified schools’ continued eligibility and compliance with the program’s requirements. During the initial petition and recertification processes, a school must provide ICE with evidence of its legitimacy and its eligibility, such as designated school officials’ attestation statements that both the school and officials intend to comply with program rules and regulations.

This testimony summarizes the key findings of our report on ICE’s management of SEVP, which was publicly released last week. Like that report, this statement will address ICE’s efforts to (1) identify and assess risks in SEVP, and (2) develop and implement procedures to prevent and detect fraud during the initial certification process and once schools begin accepting foreign students.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777, or

Full Report

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