Foreign Students Can Still Attend Flight Schools Not Authorized by FAA

By David North, January 3, 2013

It is hard to believe, but foreign students are still being allowed to attend flight schools that are not authorized by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). They have up to February 11 to sign up to get their student visas.

Last July Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) all made it clear that they were fed up with that situation at a hearing on Capitol Hill. The subject is a sensitive one because two of the 9/11 terrorists had attended U.S. flight schools.

A little earlier in 2012 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the sleepy arm of DHS that is responsible for international students, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), had, in late 2011, allowed a total of 167 flight schools to admit foreign students despite their lack of FAA approval – despite the fact that this was contrary to SEVP's own policy.

As I reported in a CIS Backgrounder published this week, Sen. Schumer, chair of the Senate's immigration subcommittee, showed considerable irritation at the DHS staffer who represented SEVP at the hearing over the agency's failure to shut down flight schools not authorized by FAA.

My own (not very sound) perception was that the problem had been solved long ago.

Wrong.

The December 17 issue of Interpreter Releases, the immigration bar's trade paper, reported that SEVP had published, in December, a Policy Guidance memorandum that included this text:

5.2.1. Providers without FAA Part 141 or 142 Certification. SEVP-certified flight training providers without FAA Part 141 or 142 certifications have two months after the effective date of this guidance (on or before February 11, 2012 [sic]) to apply for FAA Part 141 or 142 certification. Once flight training providers have obtained provisional FAA Part 141 or 142 certification they will have until the end of their provisional status to obtain full . . . certification . . .

Unless I am misreading this, the memorandum indicates:

  1. that there are still SEVP-approved flight schools that are not recognized by FAA (the agency that knows something about the subject) and,

  2. that SEVP, until the memo's publication on December 11, 2012, had not even set a deadline for applying to the FAA.

I am not sure what "provisional" FAA certification entails, but while it is in place, the flight schools in question can continue to enroll foreign students while the full certification process plays out.

As I pointed out in the Backgrounder, the SEVP posture on the flight schools is, "emblematic of SEVP’s apparent priorities: to make life as convenient as possible for the entities it regulates."