Citing NBC News reporting, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has asked the Department of Homeland Security to answer questions about the scope of fraud in a U.S. student visa program.
A joint investigation by NBC News and KNTV — NBC's Bay Area station — found that the F-1 visa program, which lets international students work at firms in the U.S. after graduation, appears to have been exploited by fake companies providing false employment verifications.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a letter sent Thursday to Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf that he wanted to know the scope of fraud in the Optional Practical Training program, in which U.S. firms employ F-1 visa holders, over the past five years.
“How many companies currently provide employment to F-1 visa holders under the OPT and STEM OPT programs?” asked Grassley. “How many companies were identified as being engaged in fraudulent or potentially fraudulent activities?”
Grassley said he had previously inquired about fraud in the OPT component of the F-1 program in 2018, but that “recent news reports have shed light on additional types of fraud involving these programs.” He cited the joint NBC News investigation, and the case of Findream, LLC and Weiyun "Kelly" Huang.
Findream's founder, a woman named Weiyun "Kelly" Huang, was charged with criminal fraud in federal court in Illinois.
According to court documents, Findream's alleged purpose was "false verifications of employment" for Chinese F-1 visa holders seeking work employment "via the OPT program."
An affidavit prepared by an FBI special agent alleges that a website associated with Findream described the OPT opportunity to prospective students as "pretend' work." If a document submission is "well-prepared," the website said, "it will look real" and the U.S. government "will think your status is legal."
The FBI visited the company's listed office in Chicago and found it was bogus. It was "a company on paper only," according to court documents.
At a change of plea hearing Dec. 20, Huang, a Chinese national, changed her plea to guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
Court records show Huang also agreed to plead guilty on behalf of the two entities that were co-defendants in the case, Findream, LLC and Sinocontech, LLC.
Her sentencing is scheduled for June.
In his Thursday letter, Grassley noted reporters had also found companies that had very few employees and may not have been subject to inspection by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“If these companies or others like them are actively engaged in fraudulent activities,” he wrote, “they must not be allowed to fly below the radar of federal investigators simply because they operate on a smaller scale.
Grassley asked the DHS for answers to his questions by June 5.