“Outdated Immigration Laws: Bad for Students, Worse for Local Economies”

It starts with the student visa process, which is one component of a broken immigration system.  At the end of the day, the only issues that really matter are: 1) ability to pay; and 2) whether or not the applicant is a terrorist.

immigration-reformThe first question in the holy trinity of the vetting process – are you a bona fide student? – has already been answered by the admitting institution.  (Recommendation:  Take unaccredited institutions out of the equation because “bona fide student” and “rogue provider” are a contradiction in terms.)

The third question – what are your post-graduation plans?, i.e., to return to your home country – should also be jettisoned.  Emigration is a personal decision and, Lord knows, the US needs a certain percentage of international students to remain for the long-term, if not forever.  With a median age of 38+ the population isn’t getting any younger, plus, there’s also a shortage of skilled workers in key fields.

NOTE:  Six (6) winners of Nobel Prizes affiliated with US universities are foreign born.  (See America’s Immigrant Laureates.  11.10.16, Inside Higher Ed)

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.


“These Obscure Colleges Sign Up Thousands Of Foreign Students With Little Oversight”

Both Northwestern Polytechnic and Silicon Valley University are accredited, a distinction that allows colleges with many foreign students to avoid the most stringent oversight. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s student visa program depends on the accreditation system: it requires less documentation from accredited schools that want authorization to admit foreign students than it asks of unaccredited schools.


Not All Types of Accreditation Are Created Equal

This is ironic because accredited institutions are supposed to be held to a higher standard.  Of course, there are different levels of accreditation and different types of accreditors.  National accreditation (NA), the category into which both NPU and SVU fall, is not to be confused with regional accreditation (RA), considered to be the gold standard.  NA is much easier and much less expensive to obtain.  While most NA entities are for-profit online and career schools, quite a few are nonprofits, which gives them more legitimacy, in the eyes of many.

Once an institution receives accreditation and it obtains SEVP Certification, which gives it the authority to issue I-20s, it can pretty much run on autopilot until a scandal of some sort surfaces in the media.  The article on which this post is based is Exhibit A.

Truth in Advertising?

Another point, which I’ve mentioned on many occasions, is the fact that most RA schools do not accept credits or credentials from NA schools, for obvious reasons.  This means if a NPU or SVU students want to transfer, they must start over again, in most cases.  This is also an issue that the US government – through EducationUSA – must address sooner rather than later, since EdUSA represents all “officially accredited” US colleges and universities.

$how Me The Money! 

Here’s one of the money paragraphs in the article, pun intended.

Thanks to its huge surge in enrollment, NPU took in $40 million in 2014, and spent $12 million — leaving it with a $28 million surplus…

Hmm, let’s see.  Revenue of $40 million with $12 million in expenses and a $28 million surplus translates into a 70% profit margin.   Nonprofits are also tax-exempt, if I’m not mistaken, which means that’s $28 mill tax-free.   Not too shabby.  In addition, the value of NPU’s assets jumped from $46.53 million to $75.32 million in 2014.  Also not too shabby.  In fact, that’s one hell of a business model.

Speaking of tax-exempt, NPU might want to find someone to proofread their 990 form.  Here are some excerpts from the 2014 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax:




Who’s Minding the Store?

From a colleague who shares my concerns about this issue:

  1. What are the odds students are told up front about the RA vs NA distinction?
  2. What are the odds students are being introduced to quality options?

These are rhetorical questions.  You know the answers, sadly.

Where are the referrals coming from?  You know where.  From education agents whose primary, or exclusive, concern is money and how much they can make – pronto.  These are what one colleague referred to as “bottom feeding agents.”  Students who attend these types of universities generally fall into two categories:  1)  those who think it’s something that it’s not because an agent sells them a bill of goods (they show up, discover the deception and look for quality transfer opportunities); and 2) those whom a well-known colleague aka accreditation expert calls “willing co-conspirators,” who – with a wink and a nod – go, pay 20k a year (tuition/fees only) and wait for the chance to work and eventually emigrate. The latter know the score.

As one colleague put it, “It’s a great illustration of how lax oversight by the US government perpetuates agent misconduct and gives professionals of all stripes a bad name in the process. ”

Easy as Pie

These schools know which hoops to jump through & which buttons to push (we’re legal, we’re accredited, we’re American!).  Meanwhile, too many student visa applications are being denied because the interviewing consular officers think or feel that the young people standing on the other side of the window, most of whom have letters of admission and I-20s from RA institutions, might be trying to use the F1 to emigrate.

In addition to the article, check out both university websites and form your own opinion.  Note that the new president of NPU is the son of the former and first president.  That’s called keeping it in the family.  In 2014, President George Hsieh earned $299,792 and his son, Peter, then Executive Vice President and Officer, earned $257,292.

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.  A Vietnamese translation is forthcoming.  And the truth will set you free.  Stay tuned!

Finally, kudos to BuzzFeed reporters, Molly Hensley-Clancy and Brendan Klinkenberg!  I should probably create a series entitled Set Thine House in Order, which I kicked off with a recent post about mass shootings and study in the USA.


Bonus:  Here’s a 23 December 2015 article from The Times of India entitled ‘University of Manavallu’: In Silicon Valley, a dodgy Chinese-Telugu alliance.


June 2016 Vietnam Strategic Recruitment Retreat

I’m pleased to announce that I will lead a Strategic Recruitment Retreat (SRR) in Phan Thiết, Vietnam from 17-19 June for colleagues whose institutions have targeted Vietnam as a high recruitment priority.  The purpose of the retreat is to give them the tools they need in terms of knowledge, insights and strategy in order to increase their chances of success in recruiting Vietnamese students in what has become a highly competitive market in recent years.  Colleagues can either come after the ICEF Thailand-Vietnam Agent Roadshow or attend on a stand-alone basis.  I’m delighted to welcome Study in the USA as an event sponsor. 

Follow this link for detailed information and online registration.


USA is Once Again the World’s Leading Host of Vietnamese Students; Ranks 6th Overall

Ranks 6th Among All Sending Countries

As I predicted earlier this year, Vietnam has surpassed Japan in total enrollment in the US, most of it in higher education.  It recorded an astounding 18.9% increase from July 2015, the third highest after India (20.7%) and China (19.4%), according to the latest SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly update.

11-15 Places of Origin Asia

Incredibly, Vietnam now ranks 6th among all sending countries with 28,883 students studying at US institutions, mostly colleges and universities but also boarding and day schools, along with some other programs.  The US has surpassed Australia (PDF), which had 28,524 Vietnamese students at all levels as of October 2015, a 0.4% decrease over the previous year.  As you can see below, Vietnam is nipping at the heels of Canada, which was unimaginable five (5) years ago.

Top 10 Countries of Citizenship 11-15

What are some of the reasons for this continued impressive growth?

  • Robust economic growth, 6.5% through September 2015, which translates into growing ability to pay for one of the world’s most expensive higher education systems;
  • Proactive recruitment on the part of growing numbers of US colleges and universities, which means more choices for Vietnamese students and parents;
  • More institutions with an overall price tag – with or without scholarships – in the 20-30k range or less; and
  • The continued popularity of US higher education as an overseas study destination.

This is in spite of a high visa denial rate over the summer, especially in the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City and growing concern about personal safety, the result of the recent spate of mass shootings.

Extrapolating from the estimate calculated by IIE based on information from Open Doors and the U.S. Department of Commerce, this means that the current contribution to the US economy by Vietnamese students is $919, 461,422. Since most students are self-financing, Vietnamese parents are spending nearly $1 billion on their children’s education in the US.  To put this in perspective Vietnam’s 2014 GDP was $186.2 billion, according to the World Bank.


“Ten sure ways countries can turn away international students”

Here’s another one: #11 – High Visa Denial Rate + No Accountability = Many students choose a 2nd choice country, which represents a loss, including that of a financial nature, to the admitting institution and original host country.

How not to make them feel welcome. International students via Lucky Business/www.shutterstock.com
How not to make them feel welcome. International students via Lucky Business/www.shutterstock.com

The pursuit of global mobility in a world divided up into nations invokes a fundamental dilemma. Free passage without harassment is a right we routinely expect to exercise whenever we travel abroad. Yet the right of people within a country to determine who enters their nation is enshrined in law. This unresolvable tension between sovereignty and mobility catches international students in its grip.

More than 4.5m students cross borders (PDF download) every year for educational purposes, mostly entering English-speaking countries, Western Europe, China, Japan and Russia. The great majority of these students return home when their education ends, though some become skilled migrants to the country of education, or other countries. Nations compete for international students – every country wants high-quality research students and some make a profit from international undergraduate and masters-level students. In the UK, for example, Universities UK reported that international students spent £4.4 billion on fees and accommodation in 2011-12.

However, education policy is all too often in tension with migration policy. The United States (after September 11, 2001), Australia (in 2010-2011) and the United Kingdom (now) have all slowed down their student intake because of security concerns, or local opposition to migration. In each case numbers fell sharply and stayed down.


Follow this link to the read the rest of the article, including the “ten sure ways.”



Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Well-Educated, Your Wealthy…

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Excerpt from The New Colossus, a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, 1883

Courtesy of AlterNet
Courtesy of AlterNet

It’s rare that I write a post about a Facebook (FB) comment.  My FB page consists mostly of current events updates and commentary and the occasional photo.  I don’t tell my FB friends how I’m feeling, where I’m traveling to or what I had for dinner last night.  (The main reason I stay on FB is because of what I learn from some very smart and well-connected FB friends not because of fluff that’s neither here nor there.)

I recently posted a link to a March 2015 article entitled 9 basic concepts Americans fail to grasp with the subtitle A lack of worldliness is clouding our vision on everything from sex to economics, and the proof is in our policies.  I highlighted point #3.  (I would argue that this doesn’t apply only to “neocons” and the “Tea Party” but to the majority of US Americans.  If you doubt this assertion, I’m happy to provide ample evidence to back it up.)

3. American Exceptionalism Is Absolute Nonsense in 2015

No matter how severe the U.S.’ decline becomes, neocons and the Tea Party continue to espouse their belief in “American exceptionalism.” But in many respects, the U.S. of 2015 is far from exceptional. The U.S. is not exceptional when it comes to civil liberties (no country in the world incarcerates, per capita, more of its people than the U.S.) or healthcare (WHO ranks the U.S. #37 in terms of healthcare). Nor is the U.S. a leader in terms of life expectancy: according to the WHO, overall life expectancy in the U.S. in 2013 was 79 compared to 83 in Switzerland and Japan, 82 in Spain, France, Italy, Sweden and Canada and 81 in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Austria and Finland.

A Vietnamese FB friend responded thus:  I couldn’t agree more with the points the article makes. Those are the issues that some socially conscious Americans are aware of.  At the same time though, how the world sees the US matters. Uncle Sam remains the most desired population for migrants: 23% of the potential migrants would like to get their hands on those Green Cards, more than triple the percentage of the UK, the 2nd nation on the list.  (Said FB friend cited the two sources below.) If we think that desirability could be a proxy, those stats do make a case for some degree of exceptionalism.

150 Million Adults Worldwide Would Migrate to the U.S. (April 2012)

Nearly 700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently (PDF)
U.S. tops desired destination countries  (Data collected between 2007 and 2009)

I agree – how the world sees the US does matter.  That’s a mixed bag, to say the least.  For example, the international community views the US as the greatest threat to world peace – with Pakistan a distant 2nd.  US Americans might want to ask themselves why that is.  That’s the ugly of the good, the bad and the ugly.  But i digress – kind of.

Here’s my response which, as you can see, transcends the limits of a typical FB one-liner.

The fact that the US “remains the most desired population for migrants” is not the result of its “exceptionalism.”  There are many different reasons and circumstances.  I list seven (7) below.  There are realities other than the party line that the USA is the best thing since sliced bread.  My main point is that it’s not as cut-and-dried as your comment indicates.

1)  Misperception Trumps Reality.  You know, the idea that the streets are paved with gold, there’s a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, it’s the land of endless opportunity and all that jazz, i.e., cultural mythology that many US Americans buy into, a mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  (As Friedrich Nietzsche once observed, Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.)  Don’t underestimate the power and influence of the US MSM (mainstream media), Hollywood and, to a much lesser extent (much to their dismay), the ongoing charm offensive of the US embassies and consulates around the world, including in Vietnam.

2)  International Students Who Emigrate.  As you know from personal experience and in general, lots of international students make the fateful decision to work for the long term, become permanent residents, and maybe even citizens.  They find a great job, are working in fields in which there are not many, if any, opportunities in their home countries, fall in love, etc.  Frankly speaking, the US desperately needs a certain percentage of you to remain because of the graying of the population, labor shortages in certain fields, a lack of native-born US Americans studying key subjects, etc.

The USG will eventually be forced to reform its immigration policy to recognize this reality, not likely in the current (nationalistic, hoorah!) climate. I predict that someday, in the not too distant future, international students will no longer have to do that little dance about “plans to return to your home country” during the visa interview because it will be a moot point.

3)  The New American Slavery: Invited to the US, Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare  Every year, more than 100,000 foreigners go to the US to do menial work under the auspices of the H-2 visa program.  No streets paved with gold for many of these tired and poor people, just day after agonizing and gut-wrenching day of exploitation and abuse.

4)  The House Slave Syndrome.  “Over and over again, the U.S. has instigated mayhem or carnage overseas, generating thousands if not millions of refugees, many of whom longing to escape, paradoxically, it seems, to the source of their suffering. You beat and humiliate me, so can I move in?” In many cases, ironically, immigrants are flocking to the US to escape dire circumstances in their home countries created by, guess who, the USG and its military.

How many recent immigrants fall into this category?  Let’s use Vietnam as an example.  If the US had not sabotaged the Geneva Accords of 1954 and thrown its financial and military weight behind that artificial entity known as the Republic of Vietnam, its one-time client state, there would have been a national election in 1956 that President HCM would have won, thus unifying the country.  That means probably no 2nd Indochina War/American War in Vietnam, 3.8 million would not have been murdered, and there probably wouldn’t be over 1.5 million overseas Vietnamese in the US today.

5)  Simple Logic.  Conditions in the US are much better than in many countries so it’s not surprising that people would want to go there in search of a better life. It is a large and, in selected areas, a diverse country.  You don’t even have to learn English if you belong to an ethnic group with a large community there.  (Think Quận Cam, or Orange County, if you’re a Vietnamese-American or VA wannabe.)   I know one fairly recent immigrant from Vietnam whose father was a low-ranking soldier in the ARVN and a farmer by trade who applied to the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) in its waning days.  (The ODP began in 1980 and ended in 1997.  During that time, 623,509 Vietnamese were resettled abroad, of whom more than 450,000 went to the US.)  The main reason?  So that his children could get a better education, which they have.  Future plans?  This young man is returning to live in Vietnam and his parents are planning to retire to their hometown.  Good deal all around, I’d say.

photodune-3821722-female-soldier-saluting-flag-m (dhs)6)  Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI).  Only a government bureaucrat could come up with this name.  Here’s the description on the Study in the States (Homeland Security) website:  The United States military is a vital part of our nation’s security. International students interested in serving in the military may be eligible for a program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). This program allows certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States and hold critical skills to join the U.S. military. People with critical skills, including physicians, nurses, and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds, are in great demand.

Think of it as roll of the dice and/or a deal with the devil.  If you agree to enlist, you can become a permanent resident (they’ll even help you!) and, eventually, a citizen.  Then you can enjoy all of the attendant benefits of living in the US, if you survive the latest war du jour that you’ve been sent to fight in and return to the US unscathed, physically and psychologically.  My sources tell me that the US military is now casting a wider net, i.e., not limited to those who “hold critical skills,” because it needs more recruits, more warm bodies, more cannon fodder, so to speak.  (That’s what happens when you have 1,000 bases around the world and are spending $700 billion a year on your military.  Got to feed the ravenous beast!)

7)  Give Me Your Wealthy.  You can essentially buy a green card through the EB-5 program and become an immigrant investor.  Cost:  $1 million or $500,000, depending upon location and circumstances.  (Assuming the project is successful, this money is returned to the investor with a very low interest rate.)  This is popular among some foreigners of means who are looking to hedge their bets because of instability, potential instability or perceptions of instability at home.  So, yes, green cards are for sale, if you have the requisite cash.

There’s more to be said but this is, after all, only a blog post not a feature article.  (What did I overlook?  Point #8, anyone?)  Your thoughts?


P.S.:  Thanks to my FB friend for raising this issue.

A graphic illustration of the practical effects and outcomes of nationalism, of which exceptionalism is but one component.
A graphic illustration of the practical effects & outcomes of nationalism, of which exceptionalism is part and parcel.

“As Sestak scandal draws to close, US government gives up on millions”

A screen capture of Binh and Dao Vo's wedding video from November 2012. Michael T. Sestak (L), the former head of the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City's Non-Immigrant Visa Division apparently served as Vo's best man at the wedding.
A screen capture of Binh and Dao Vo’s wedding video from November 2012. Michael T. Sestak (L), the former head of the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City’s Non-Immigrant Visa Division apparently served as Vo’s best man at the wedding.

Living up to one word in the subtitle of this venerable blog, here’s some more intrigue for you.  Below are some of the “money paragraphs” from this update.  My guess is the fat lady hasn’t sung yet on this bizarre case.  Follow this link to read the entire article.  It’s not show me the money, it’s where is the money?  As this case illustrates, corruption is not unique to emerging economies.

Michael Sestak and his date at the wedding of Tăng Bình & Anh Đào.
A screen capture of Michael Sestak and his date at wedding of Tăng Bình & Anh Đào.

Minor correction:  While most of the 489 Vietnamese nationals who participated in this $cheme went on tourist visas, some bought student visas.  Good luck finding them in a country as large and populous as the US, which also happens to have a Vietnamese-American community of over 1.5 million.  It’s no surprise then that many of them are in Orange County and San Jose, among other areas.

While this case one of the most egregious ever in terms of the large amounts of money involved – “one of the largest bribery schemes involving a Foreign Service Officer in the history of the United States” – it’s not the only example of US consular officers selling visas for money or other benefits (e.g., sex).  In fact, it’s the lack of accountability that makes it possible for dishonest consular officers to supplement their US State Department income.  The only difference is one of scale; most are not as greedy as Sestak and his Vietnamese-American and Vietnamese associates.


Where’s the Re$t of the Loot?

Though the Feds have painted Vo as the mastermind — the man who divvied up and laundered the proceeds — he’ll probably get out of jail well before his 50th birthday. Vo’s younger sister, Hong Chau Vo (an American citizen) and cousin, Truc Thanh Huynh (a citizen of Vietnam) are already out of jail and under 30. If Vo upholds his plea agreement, the US Government will drop all charges against his wife, Nguyen Thuy Dao Anh, (AKA Alice Nguyen), a Vietnamese national who was never arrested.
Sestak may be well into his 60s when he finally gets out of jail.

Prosecutors only put the gang on the hook for a $9.7 million — a “conservative estimate” they came up with by multiplying $20,000 by 489.
And they couldn’t even find all of that.
“The government has been able to locate only approximately $3.1 million of proceeds at financial institutions in the United States. The government also traced approximately $3.2 million in proceeds that [Vo] transferred from Vietnam to Thailand for Sestak who then invested in real estate. Millions of dollars in proceeds remain overseas and outside the reach of the United States.”
To prove they weren’t just being excessive, the government pointed to a statement written by Hong Vo the middle of the illicit ten-month visa auction.
“I can’t believe Binh has pretty much made over $20m with this business,” she wrote to her sister, identified only as Conspirator A.V. “Slow days… are like 3 clients… and that’s like 160k-180.”

As part of his plea agreement, Vo will have only have to cough up $2 million by the end of next year — meaning the government will only have recovered roughly $8.3 million. If Vo makes good on that payment, the government will drop all charges pending against Alice–the only person indicted in the case who managed to avoid arrest and prosecution.
In some ways, the couple anticipated this scenario.
According to intercepted chats, Vo warned his wife against opening Western bank accounts in his name and Hong told a sibling that Alice had purchased plane tickets out of Vietnam in case the whole thing “blew up.”
When it finally did, roughly $7.7 million disappeared in three days from a series of Sacombank accounts held in both their names.
At the same time, the government maintains that the couple used illicit funds to travel to Israel, South Korea and Hong Kong where they blew hundreds of thousands of dollars on jewelry. They bought condos in Saigon Pearl Apartments in Binh Thanh District and the Xi Riverview Palace in District 2. At one point, they custom-built an aquarium so large they had to bring in engineers to make sure it wouldn’t buckle the floor.
During this spree, Vo wheeled and dealed on a $38,000 rose gold cell phone.
While such spending may seem reckless, it made it nearly impossible for investigators to track the money.

We’ll Help You.  Sorry, We Changed Our Minds.  Good Luck!

The State Department was quick to crow over Vo’s sentencing, but it remains deeply disingenuous about how this case came about and what it means.
“This case demonstrates Diplomatic Security’s unwavering commitment to investigating visa fraud and ensuring that those who commit this crime are brought to justice,” crowed Bill Miller, the head of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in a press release generated to mark Vo’s sentencing.
The problem there is that the whole case didn’t come about through careful oversight; it came about because a sad sack from Central Vietnam loaned his pregnant wife $20,000 to buy a US visa from Sestak and the Vos.
Instead of coming home with their baby boy, she disappeared, married another man and blabbed about it on Facebook. The sad sack wrote rambling letters to the President and the State Department’s OIG trying to get his wife and money back.

A Diplomatic Security spokesperson declined to comment on any relationship with their sources, but a DS agent named Tai Pham confirmed that they’d used him to build the case and speculated that the informant had put himself in danger by failing to keep quiet about the way they treated him.
He may well be right.
“I’ve run out of money,” the informant wrote last year in one of his final emails to Thanh Nien. “I cannot hide forever.”

Bonus:  Follow this link to watch some clips from the November 2012 wedding of Tăng Bình & Anh Đào, estimated to cost over $300,000, before the shit hit the fan.