Posted on January 11, 2016

US Student Visa Program’s ‘Many Vulnerabilities’ Raise Spying, Terror Fears

Malia Zimmerman, Fox News, January 7, 2016

From potential terrorists who enroll at phony schools only to melt into the U.S. population, to foreign scientists who come to study weapons technology at America’s top schools, the student visa program is allowing dangerous enemies into the country, a former top federal official told

Recent attention has been focused on refugee programs and illegal border crossings, but the Achilles heel in America’s immigration system may be the program that invites 1.2 million foreigners into the U.S. each year, according to Claude Arnold, retired special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Los Angeles bureau of Homeland Security Investigations. Once here on student visas, immigrants are barely monitored and tens of thousands don’t show up for classes and fall off the government radar.

“Our legal immigration system has many vulnerabilities and the student visa program is no different,” Arnold said. “It is only a matter of time before there is either some horrible criminal act, or some act of terrorism, and there is absolutely no information available that would have caused [authorities] to go out and pick that person up.”

Most of student visa recipients do exactly what they said they would do when they applied–take advantage of America’s vaunted system of higher education and leave when the terms expire. But every year, approximately 58,000 overstay their visas and drop out of contact with authorities. While the vast majority of those are not terrorists or spies, some are, said Arnold.

ICE’s 7,000 agents simply don’t have the ability to monitor all of them, Arnold said. By the time a red flag goes up, it may be too late.

“You have to conduct a threat assessment and go after those who are a threat to national security,” Arnold said. “But within that universe of people who are visa overstays, there could be people who are radicalized, and we just don’t know it because there is no intelligence on them,” he added.


ICE statistics show countries sending their students include several considered by the U.S. as State Sponsors of Terrorism, including Syria and Iran, as well as Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan. More than 700 Syrians came to the U.S. via the student visa program in 2014, and another 3,700 came from Iran the same year.

“We don’t really know if State’s efforts are effective or if they are helping reduce fraud and abuse of visa programs, because Department of Homeland Security refuses to release a report detailing the number of overstays in each visa category and from each country, even though Congress has mandated this report since at least 2004,” said Jessica Vaughan, a former State Department consular officer who now is the director of Policy Studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, DC-based research institute.

“What I am worried about is students who are allowed to get a student visa to attend some nondescript school and then they disappear,” said Vaughan, who noted that Hani Hanjour, the 9/11 hijacker who flew Flight 77 into the Pentagon, had obtained a student visa but never showed up for class.