One of the nation's most obvious visa mills, Silicon Valley University (SVU) in San Jose, Calif., lost its state license recently, but you wouldn't know it by reading the Department of Homeland Security's list of approved universities as of this afternoon.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked DHS quite specifically about SVU and three other named visa mills in an official letter last month. He expressed concern about the ways that they bend, and sometimes break, the immigration laws. We learned about the loss of SVU's license in an exchange of emails with a California state agency.
For years, if not decades, DHS has published a list of the schools it authorizes to issue the form I-20, which leads to the student (F-1) visa. It is called "Study in the States" and it contains some 7,000 names. Consular officials look to it to make sure that visa applicants are heading to a DHS-authorized school.
Although the DHS system for screening would-be foreign student schools is casual, at best, it does demand that the school be licensed by the state in which it operates. If a school loses its license, it should be removed from the DHS listing, but as we have reported before, sometimes that takes a long time.
While the DHS listing retains SVU, the state agency has cleansed its records, and does not indicate that SVU is in business.
While one might expect that — particularly in this administration — DHS would seek to make sure that the colleges it licenses to issue the I-20 would be reputable entities, and while it closed down some visa mills some years back — the DHS agency in charge, the Student and Exchange Visitor (SEVP) program, showed no signs of activity in regard to SVU. Similarly, it played no role in the recent closure of a comparable organization, the American College of Commerce and Technology in Falls Church, Va., by a Virginia state organization.
SVU had a lot of counts against it, as Sen. Grassley noted in his letter. In addition to those noted by the senator, it reported a "loan" to its outgoing president of $12.5 million; a long, formal accusation had been filed against it by California's attorney general; and it had its accreditation revoked by what many thought was an overly lax accrediting agency, the Accrediting Council for Independent Schools and Colleges (ACICS).
Why did ACICS revoke its prior blessing? Because SVU persisted in refusing to furnish an audited financial report, an act that probably related to the "loan" and perhaps some other financial irregularities.
As we learned in the ACCT case, visa mills continue to mask their own deaths for as long as possible to keep collecting money from the students. This may be going on now in San Jose, as the school's website says nothing about a closure. A spokesperson for the state agency in charge of such matters said that it was "working closely with the Attorney General's Office" on the apparent continued operation of the school.
If one calls the school, and gets past the busy signal that is often in place, and asks about the school's status, one is put on hold for long periods of time. I could learn nothing from SVU about its plans. A reply to my electronic query to SEVP on the de-licensing provided the initial answer: "checking."
Meanwhile the school's website bears this carefully crafted message: "SVU is a private post-secondary institution which has been licensed to operate by the [California] Bureau for Private Post-secondary Education (BPPE)."
That is narrowly true, once upon a time BPPE made such a decision, but it has since reversed itself.
That this highly questionable university has such a totally misleading epitaph on its website is perfectly fitting.