A Bizarre Case of Student Visa Fraud In Southern California

The story is almost surreal. To keep their student visas, several foreign students in Southern California relied on a middle-aged American man to attend classes, write term papers, and take exams for them. That man, Eamonn Daniel Higgins, was arraigned last week on federal charges of visa fraud for having helped dozens of foreign students – from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey, and Qatar – to meet the academic requirements that would allow them to stay in the United States. (See: Man Charged with Leading Student Visa Fraud Operation, by Anna Gorman and My-Thuan Tran, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2010, and Orange County Man Charged with Running Sophisticated Student Visa Fraud Scheme, ICE News Release, March 8, 2010.)

ICE reports that Higgins and his associates are alleged to have used counterfeit California drivers’ licenses to impersonate foreign clients at several colleges and universities across Southern California, receiving up to $1,500 to take final exams on their behalf, and $1,000 to take English proficiency tests that are required of foreign students. According to the Los Angeles Times, Higgins is believed to have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars helping as many as 120 people to keep their student visas, albeit fraudulently.

The LA Times reports that the case came to light last year, when police found a wallet containing several fake California drivers’ licenses, all bearing the picture of Higgins’s nephew, and a variety of names linked to foreign students. According to ICE, Higgins could face as much as five years in federal prison for conspiring to commit visa fraud.

Two distinct dangers lurk in this case. On the one hand, it is disturbing to see just how vulnerable to fraud the system remains, more than nine years after the attacks of 9/11. One would think we would have found and plugged all of the holes in our system a long time ago, in the interest of national security. On the other hand, these same national security interests will no doubt be cited to justify another round of onerous new requirements that will make it still harder for the brightest foreign students to study in the United States. We will need to work hard to ensure that neither of these worthy goals is compromised.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.