Yesterday, 81 international students living in the U.S. on student visas were arrested at a Miami language school for repeatedly not showing up for class. No, this wasn’t Senior Skip Day—these students were violating the conditions of their visas which require them to actually go to school here in the U.S. (students must attend class for at least 18 hours a week). Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for its part took the appropriate steps to stop these students and the school from abusing and defrauding the visa process.
Student visas are a great public diplomacy tool for the United States–helping to improve America’s image around the world. There is nothing wrong with giving students the opportunity to take advantage of America’s world class high-education system. But at the same time, there are legitimate security concerns surrounding these visas (several of the 9/11 hijackers used student visas). DHS and Congress, recognizing this vulnerability, have addressed this issue head on. The law has been strengthened to require students to be enrolled in a full course of study (among other requirements) and DHS has instituted robust enforcement mechanisms through its Student Exchange Visitors Program.
This model demonstrates that the U.S. can maintain a visa process that encourages people to come to the U.S. while also ensuring these visitors are not coming to the U.S. for the wrong reasons. As James Sherk and Diem Nguyen describe, other visa categories have a far less successful record. The visa process remains burdensome, bureaucratic, and doesn’t serve the needs of the economy. As a result, illegal immigration gets worse, as employers don’t want to mess with the legal processes. And those who do get a visa often abuse it. Some 50 percent of illegal immigrants inside the U.S. are visa overstays.
The Obama Administration has pushed for an amnesty-centric immigration reform package in Congress. But as this incident shows, the current immigration system 1) isn’t capable of preventing more people from coming and overstaying their visa, something that will be encouraged if the U.S. moves forward with amnesty, and 2) can’t adequately and efficiently bring people legally in the United States. It seems like the wrong time to push for legalization of the illegal population. A better approach would be to do something more incremental–put enforcement and border security, as well as improvements in the legal process at the forefront of immigration reform.
This ICE bust is good news for security and immigration enforcement–its time to look at real reform for other visas.