Degrees at any cost: The rise of international student visa frauds

Herguan University, is yet another unaccredited American institution which preyed on aspirations of many Indian students by offering them pathways to the US using forged documents. Herguan follows earlier cases of Tri Valley University and University of Norther Virginia.

According to US ICE, Jerry Wang, 34- year old CEO of Herguan University and the University of East-West Medicine is charged with “conspiracy to commit visa fraud; use of false documents; aggravated identity theft; and unauthorized access to government computers.” Majority of 450 students at Herguan are from India. Any guess, how these students were recruited?

I believe that in addition to unscrupulous activities of some universities, agents play an important role in this process. Here is my related post from last year–“International recruitment agents: Playing with fire?”

Herguan is listed as one of the universities for HoneyWorld–a Hyderabad-based education agent. Interestingly, Herguan is listed along with University of Bridgeport, Colorado State University and Wright State University among American universities served by HoneyWorld. This shows the risks involved for established brands in engaging with agent relationships. Some parents reported in Deccan Herald that “local consultants [agents] had lured them with job permits while studying and in some cases even assured that the students could work anywhere in the US if they went to Herguan University, and that there was no need to attend classes regularly.”

Here is interesting discussion thread from 2009 mentioning student “referrals” which allow discounted tuition for students who recruit more students. Here is another example.

In my recent post, I highlighted that this is a very vulnerable time for Indian students as they are in the “search stage” of identifying their best fit options and given the double whammy of affordability and visa policy challenges, number of Indian students going abroad may get negatively impacted for fall 2012 admissions cycle.

In this vulnerable stage, US still seemed to be in a better shape as compared to other destinations because some of the traffic from Australia and the UK was expected to redirect to the US. However, Herguan may pose serious threat to Indian students headed to the US. There have already been reports of higher denials of visa by American embassies as seen in student discussion forums, and Herguan will make things tougher.

Visa related frauds which use education as pathways for immigration are an evidence of insatiable appetite for “foreign degrees” at any cost–fraud is accepted as fair by many and it is being propelled by technological sophistication.

In a recent article, Corruption in International Higher Education, Phil Altbach asserted “The first step in solving a major challenge to higher education internationalisation is recognition of the problem itself.” Unfortunately, many do not want to recognize the problem and few others continue to fuel it.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha