US

Five California Residents Arrested for Taking Exams on Behalf of Chinese Nationals Applying to US Colleges

By Daniel Holl

SACRAMENTO—Five California residents were arrested on the morning of March 12 in connection to helping Chinese nationals cheat on literacy proficiency exams used for entering United States universities.

The five individuals used fake Chinese passports to take the exams on behalf of students from China. These students intended to become foreign exchange students in the United States, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website.

Christopher Kuemmerle, a special agent for Homeland Security Investigations, told the Los Angeles Times that over 40 students used this scheme to get into highly ranked U.S. colleges. Those colleges include University of California (UC) Los Angeles, UC Irvine, and UC Riverside.

“We have so many students that are honest, that work hard to get into the university of their dreams and yet that spot might be taken by someone who cheats,” Kuemmerle told the Los Angeles Times. Kuemmerle supervises the Los Angeles Document and Benefit Fraud task force, the agency which ran the investigation.

Charges included using fake passports and impersonating others to take an English proficiency exam. These exams are often necessary for obtaining a student visa.

Four of the five arrests were made in the greater Los Angeles area, with the final arrest made in Stockton. A last defendant is suspected to be residing abroad.

California Exam Exploitation

The ringleader, name Liu Cai, 23, was living in Woodland Hills on a student visa. He allegedly took at least five exams on behalf of Chinese nationals.

The exam taken was the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam. Passing this exam is necessary to obtain a student visa for traveling and studying in America.

Other arrests include Samantha Wang, 24, Mohan Zhang, 24, and Elric Zhang, 24, in the Los Angeles area. Quang Cao, 24, was arrested in Stockton. Tuan Tran, 33, is suspected to be living in Taiwan.

“The imposter test takers were generally U.S. citizens of Chinese descent that spoke English well and that could breeze through the exam,” Kuemmerle told the Los Angeles Times. “A lot of these associations were made at Chinese American social organizations.”

All of the arrested individuals took TOEFL exams for others. 19 different Chinese students were impersonated at test locations in and around Los Angeles.

Allegations further state that Cai paid $400 through PayPal and Venmo to co-defendants after tests were taken between 2015 and 2016.

Kuemmerle told the Los Angeles Times that students had cheated into other universities. Those universities include Arizona State University, the University of Alabama, Columbia University, and New York University.

“On top of allowing students to cheat their way into our top universities, schemes such as this exploit our nation’s legal immigration system and threaten our national security,” said Joseph Macias, Special Agent in Charge for HSI Los Angeles, according to an ICE news release. “As this case shows, we will move aggressively to identify and prosecute those who engage in fraud and corrupt the immigration process for profit.”

Students from China attending U.S. universities has more than quadrupled in the last 10 years, according to Statista.com. There were more than 81,000 Chinese students between 2007 and 2008. That number jumped to over 360,000 between 2017 and 2018.

A 2016 study by the California State Auditor on undergraduate data from the University of California Office of the President found enrollment bias. Out-of-state students, which includes international students, were favored over California residents.

Tuition fees for out-of-state students are higher than in-state fees. According to the University of California website, estimated fees for in-state individuals are between $30,000 to $35,000.

Out-of-state individuals are estimated up to $65,000.

Students at the University of California in Los Angeles
Students at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

From Cheats to Arrests

A federal grand jury returned a 26-count indictment on March 8. Charges included the defendants conspiring to use false passports. Another charge included “aggravated identity theft” as part of the scheme to impersonate Chinese nationals who were required to take the TOEFL test, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Several government bureaus are investigating the case, including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection National Security Section.

The Educational Testing Service, which provides the exam, is also providing assistance on the investigation.

Any student wishing to enter the United States from abroad for education purposes must obtain an F-1 student visa, according to U.S. law. These students must apply to a school that is authorized to enroll foreign students. Many of these schools require students whose first language is not English to take and pass the TOEFL exam for admission.

To take the exam, the test-taker must have an “original, non-expired, government-issued identification document” from their home nation. The indictment states that the defendants all used counterfeit versions of passports from China.

The use of a false passport charge has a maximum 10-year sentence in federal prison, while the conspiracy count carries a maximum sentence of 5 years. A mandatory two-year sentence is required for aggravated identity theft.

China’s Student Espionage

Chinese students make up about 35 percent of all the foreign students in the United States. The Chinese regime is recruiting some of these students for subversive reasons, according to Michael Wessel, commissioner of the congressional U.S.–China Economic Security Review Commission.

On almost any college campus that has students from China, there will be a Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA). Chinese consulates within the United States not only influence these associations, but also fund them.

These are not clubs, but rather groups for monitoring and mobilizing Chinese students in America. Consulates will pay for students to harass those who are viewed as anti-China. Students are also paid to hold rallies for visiting Chinese Communist Party officials.

When Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Washington in 2015, the CSSAs rallied around 700 students to wave red flags for Xi’s arrival. They were paid $20 an hour.

Similar interference occurs in Canadian universities. In Toronto, Chinese students were caught discussing in WeChat, a popular messaging app from China, about a Uyghur rights event. They recorded people who attended and reported them to the consulate.

Another incident occurred in Toronto when a student of Tibetan Ethnicity, Chemi Lhamo, was elected as the university’s student union. On social media, she was harassed and attacked by Chinese students.

From The Epoch Times