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Immigrants Get Student Visas From Colleges But Never Attend Class

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- If you want to come to the United States and get a job, it's a well-known "secret" that a student visa is the easy ticket in, and all you need is $20,000 to enroll in the right university.

Several colleges in California have recently been caught abusing the system, and now sources tell KPIX 5 yet another one in San Jose is in the government crosshairs.

Deserted hallways, half empty classrooms. Yet last year 2,700 students were enrolled at International Technological University, a recently accredited graduate school in San Jose. So where is everyone?

ITU's president Dr. Gregory O'Brien took KPIX 5 on a tour of the school's brand new campus. He says it may look empty because many students work fulltime in a paid internship program. Most only come to class three weekends a semester.

"So students can come here, enroll in this program, and then get credit for this curricular training working at a grocery store or the sanitation department?" KPIX 5 asked him.

O'Brien said that is absolutely not the case. "If it's not relevant, we don't approve it," he said.

But that hasn't always been the case. Five years ago, a full-time ITU student was murdered in a robbery in Oklahoma. He was working at a gas station there. A former admissions officer at the time says the school then was nothing more than a visa mill.

The officer would not go on camera but gave us a copy of her letter of resignation, in which she says she was told to falsify documents, stating that students were attending classes when in fact "many...had never been to California."

Tim Kane with the Hoover Institution says when students aren't in school it's easy to lose track of them. "The real danger is the fact that half the illegal immigration population in the U.S. is in overstay. Somebody that came here legally and then continues to stay here illegally," he said.

One of the 9/11 bombers was in the U.S. on an expired student visa. Immigration officials had lost track of him. "Terrorists aren't going to go to Mexico and sneak across the border. They are going to get a legal visa. And what is the easiest legal visa they can get? It's probably the F-1 student visa."

We asked Lou Farrell, head of  Homeland Security's Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP), about that.

"Any time you have a system that allows opportunities for students and criminal organizations to exploit it, they will," Farrell told KPIX 5.

SEVP certifies and monitors schools with international students. "There's all kinds of red flags that are in the system Devin, that alert us to schools that aren't reporting properly," Farrell said.

We asked him if it would be a red flag that a school that has more than a thousand students enrolled per session is almost empty every time we go. His answer: "Oh, absolutely."

Farrell says his agency is cracking down. Just last month ICE agents arrested the operator of a chain of schools in Los Angeles called Prodee University, alleging they were a front for a "pay to stay" immigration scheme.

Here in the Bay Area the president of Tri-Valley University was sentenced last December to 16 years in prison for operating a visa mill out of an office building in Pleasanton.

And most recently the former CEO of Herguan University, just down the street from ITU, pled  guilty to falsifying student visa employment documents.

Dr. O'Brien admits ITU used to have that reputation. But now he said, "I couldn't say that there aren't people who come here to find work. But they are not welcome here and we make sure this is a learning experience, not an employment experience."

We asked the school what companies in Silicon Valley are hiring their interns, and keep in mind there are thousands of them. So far, no response.

There are currently 1.4 million foreigners in the U.S. on F-1 student visas. Unlike work visas that have quotas, student visas have none.

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