Silicon Valley University, one of the most popular institutions in California for foreign students from South India, was abruptly shut down last month, amid rumors that it was a “visa mill.” Silicon Valley University was seen by some strivers abroad as a ticket into one of America’s hottest job markets, through its ability to back student and work visas. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee recently asked if it might be a “visa mill” — a term used for sham operations where students get visas but a poor education, if any.
In his March 22 letter, Grassley specifically mentioned SVU as a “highly suspect” visa mill. He noted that in 2015, “hundreds” of Indian students, many admitted to SVU, were denied entry to the United States by Customs and Border Patrol.
State regulators have abruptly shut down the nonprofit college in San Jose that until recently enrolled nearly 4,000 students, mainly from other countries, after Chronicle reporters showed that the school had lost its accreditation months ago.
The move came after Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter March 22 to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, complaining about the lax oversight of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which allows students from foreign countries to enroll at accredited U.S. universities. In his letter, Grassley stated that several universities with large bodies of primarily foreign students were in fact “visa mills.”
The SEVP program is designed to offer foreign students three years of curricular practical training, which allows them to get work permits for U.S.-based employment. However, Grassley noted in his letter: “Some institutions offer little, if any, educational opportunities to tuition-paying foreign students seeking work opportunities.”
“These ‘visa mills’ profit from the foreign student tuition and face little governmental oversight when issuing work visas under the program, which is not available to American students. Employers also benefit from hiring foreign student over American workers, as neither the employer nor the foreign students is required to pay payroll taxes for the work,” stated Grassley.
“News reports suggested that the school might be operating as a visa mill, and in candid interviews students admitted to working “at gas stations, retail outlets, and even restaurants as part of ‘CPT’ to earn a quick buck,” wrote Grassley, adding that the school has nevertheless retained its SEVP certification “sponsoring thousands of aliens for student visas and approving unknown numbers for alien-only ‘training’ programs.”
SVU lost its accreditation last December but continued to operate. The accrediting agency, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, is itself under investigation, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report. ACICS noted it was revoking its accreditation of SVU for failing audited financial statements and an annual financial report. SVU had asked for several extensions for both documents, according to the ACICS letter, and had asked for yet another extension, prompting the accrediting agency to revoke the university’s accreditation.
California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education also filed a complaint against SVU Dec. 27 for 15 violations of its accreditation. The founders of the non-profit university have been accused of spending large sums of the school’s revenue for personal expenses, including buying homes. SVU charged a tuition of about $45,000 per year.
In an undated and un-signed letter on the home page of its Web site, SVU noted: “Due to the loss of our accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the Bureau for Private Post-Secondary Education (BPPE) has notified Silicon Valley University not to conduct any classes or exams at this time, effective immediately.”