SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Among foreigners it’s no secret – a student visa can be a ticket to a job in the U.S.

The recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have prompted Homeland Security to crack down on potential immigration cheaters.

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Welcome to Northwestern Polytechnic University in Fremont, a popular school for students from India. Thousands come to study here every year. But this semester for some incoming students there was a hitch.

“We found out that a group of applicants to our university had been denied entry into the U.S.” said NPU’s president Peter Hsieh. “It’s because of fraudulent bank documents. Somehow that got linked to us having problems as a university.”

Rumors swirled that the school was “blacklisted”, in the government crosshairs for possibly profiting by enrolling students who just want to get into the U.S. to work with little intention of studying. Hsieh denies that, saying NPU is approved to accept international students through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, and is fully accredited. “There is absolutely no issue with the university there is no investigation there is no scrutiny,” he said.

He says only about 22 out of 600 incoming students were denied entry. Just a few miles south in San Jose, another college with a mostly Indian student population, Silicon Valley University, got hit a lot harder. “Our population in terms of expected students were in order of 1000-2000. And the population that we did get were about 500,” said Academic Dean Simon Au.

Au says it wasn’t just a Homeland Security enforcement action: Once Air India heard hundreds of students were getting denied entry, the airline prevented hundreds more from even boarding. “So is that true, are you blacklisted?” we asked Au. His response: “No there is no blacklisting. There is nothing on the U.S. side that says there is anything wrong with SVU.

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U.S. Customs told us 398 students from the Hyderabad area of southern India were denied entry in December. KPIX5 has learned most of them were headed to SVU and NPU and were turned back here at SFO.

Back in India the students have been speaking out, saying they were humiliated by U.S. officials even though they did nothing wrong. But student visa fraud has been a problem at other schools in the U.S. in the past. “There are schools that are set up expressly for the purpose of selling admission to the U.S.  These are the ones that people call visa mills,” said Jessica Vaughn with the Center for Immigration Studies. “The real concern is not just that this is leading to illegal immigration, but that there may be terrorist organizations or criminal organizations that are also taking advantage of it.”

One of the 9/11 bombers entered the U.S. on a student visa. So did the Times Square bomber.

Homeland Security doesn’t comment on school investigations until they’re closed. But with hundreds of international students turned away this year, there’s a sense the feds this time around are watching closely.

Homeland security has raided several colleges in California in just the past few years, including Trivalley University here in the Bay Area, alleging they were involved in “pay to stay” immigration schemes. Several of their past presidents, including most recently Herguan University’s Jerry Wang, are serving prison time.

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