This article was last updated on May 27, 2022
We have written a lot about how both exploitative institutions and conniving individual students have used the F-1 (foreign student) visa to beat the immigration system.
There are the sorry institutions, the visa mills, that are more interested in obtaining tuition and fees than in providing education, such as those described in our recent Backgrounder, “The Dregs of Higher Education Damage Our Immigration System”.
Then there are the individuals, alien students, more intent on a job than an education, who use (and pay) the visa mills to meet their own objectives (i.e., get a work permit), and take jobs that residents should have. In most cases the use of the F-1 visa is the only possible way that these young aliens could work legally in the United States.
A third set of actors recently has come to my attention: employers who take advantage of the F-1 visas to falsely preserve the legal status of a work force that arrived here with different visas. This may be a fairly common pattern, but it was new to me.
This particular scam came to my attention because two Long Island employers were charged with forced labor and visa fraud. Ralph Colamussi and Roberto Villanueva lured workers from the Philippines with promises of good jobs and good pay, apparently through the H-2A program for unskilled, non-ag workers; once their visas expired, the former H-2A workers were forced by their employers to apply for F-1 visas, so that they could stay in the United States.
According to the ICE press release on the case, the workers were paid low wages and no overtime; many were forced to live in Colamussi’s basement, and to care for his relatives for no pay. Their main job was to work in a restaurant and bar owned by Colamussi.
According to the press release, the workers went to school one day a week and worked the rest of the week for the two indicted men. The name of the school was not mentioned and — this is unusual — the federal court records do not appear to be available from the usual source, the PACER system.
So here we have an exploitative third party making indirect use of the F-1 visa, and we have another example of why the government should pay more attention to this program. Fortunately in this case the abuse was spotted and the exploiters indicted.
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