Consequences of Student Visa Fraud

Student visa fraud is a serious national security issue, and there are serious penalties - including jail time - for offenders.

Any time a person submits a visa application that contains false information, or obtains a visa using falsified documents, he or she is committing a federal crime. The U.S. government regards visa fraud as a serious national security issue. Student visa fraud is viewed as particularly problematic, because it was the method of entry for several of the 9/11 terrorists. This has led to extra federal efforts to combat the problem.

This article will first provide some background on the crime of visa fraud, and then address the penalties under U.S. law.

Why Is Student Visa Fraud So Common?

Student visa fraud is a particularly serious problem in the U.S. largely because of unscrupulous or "sham" universities that issue visas to foreign nationals who are willing to pay for them in order to enter the country. Although many of the people receiving the visas are personally committing the fraud to gain entry, it's also true that many of the institutions are committing fraud against unwitting, otherwise legitimate students.

Types of Student Visa Fraud

Some typical forms of student visa fraud include:

  • providing, selling or transferring legitimate visas to an unqualified person, as is the case with the sham universities
  • misrepresenting reasons for obtaining a visa, i.e., to attend a supposed school knowing that you won't actually be required to study,  and
  • altering or forging a U.S. visa.

Who Commits Visa Fraud?

People seeking to enter the U.S. illegally in order to live here commonly commit visa fraud. Others common offenders are:

  • people attempting to escape prosecution
  • traffickers in narcotics and other criminals such as brokers and smugglers
  • terrorists, and
  • federal employees, who may sell visas for financial gain.

The U.S. government believes that visa fraud is most often committed by people planning to commit some other crime. 

Cracking Down on Sham Universities

In 2011, some U.S. senators proposed legislation to increase the penalties for visa fraud. Although the legislation apparently went nowhere, the senators strongly urged the Obama administration to crack down on offenders using a “back door” means of gaining illegal entry into the United States.

In leading the crackdown on the fraudulent student visa problem, Senator Jon Tester and several others devised a plan to identify and shut down these sham schools, by:

  • identifying and making a checklist of high-risk factors indicating fraud on the part of a school
  • conducting visits to each U.S. school that uses student visas that exhibits any of the identified high-risk factors
  • organizing information sharing between federal agencies, and
  • requiring stiffer penalties for people who operate sham universities engaging in student visa fraud.

What Is the Penalty for Visa Fraud?

For a basic first offense of visa fraud, the maximum penalty is ten years in federal prison. However, the maximum sentence increases to 15 years if another crime is also involved. And if that other crime was trafficking in narcotics, the penalty goes up to 20 years; if it was international terrorism, the penalty goes up to 25 years.

See a Lawyer

If you have committed a student visa fraud for any reason, consult an attorney right away. The government is actively seeking offenders and you can expect federal agents to question the motives of anyone caught, suspecting the person to be a potential threat to the United States.

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