VISA FRAUD FACTORIES IN SILICON VALLEY. “GREEN” BILLIONAIRES LIE CHEAT AND STEAL FOR “GREED”

“VISA MILL” delivers cheap labor to Kleiner Perkins, Draper Fisher, Elon  Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and other exploitation VC’s.

Making The Grades

How one California university faked students’ scores, skated by immigration authorities — and made a fortune in the process.

A college on the edge of Silicon Valley has turned itself into an upmarket visa mill, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found, deploying a system of fake grades and enabling thousands of foreign students to enter the United States each year — while generating millions of dollars in tuition revenue for the school and the family who controls it.

Spending millions on foreign recruiters, Northwestern Polytechnic University enrolls 99% of its students — more than 6,000 overall last year — from overseas, with little regard for their qualifications. It has no full-time, permanent faculty, despite having a student body larger than the undergraduate population of Princeton.

The school issues grades that are inflated, or simply made up, so that academically unqualified students can keep their visas, along with the overseas bank loans that allow the students to pay their tuition. For two years, top college administrators forbade professors from failing any students at all, and the university’s president once personally raised hundreds of student grades — by hand.

Those false credentials are all the students need to stay in the country. Many seek jobs in the tech industry, and their degrees allow them to remain working in the U.S. for years, avoiding the scrutiny of immigration officials that would have come if they had applied for a standard work visa.

The university operates as a nonprofit, with all the tax benefits that status confers. But its assets, which topped $77 million in 2014, have enriched the family that has controlled it for decades. The school has purchased homes for family members to live in, one of which cost more than $2 million. When it comes to educating students, however, NPU has spent astonishingly little. The $1.5 million it paid for a home occupied by the executive vice president and his family was more than it reported spending on the combined salaries of the school’s entire faculty and staff in 2014.

Even the university’s academic accreditation — which the school relied on in order to admit a flood of foreign students — is suspect: When the accreditor came for a site visit, the university staged a Potemkin village of a college, enlisting instructors to pretend they were full-time professors, prepping students with false answers to inspectors’ questions, and once even hiring a fake librarian.

When a whistleblower handed over a letter detailing the college’s bad behavior, the accreditor asked for a thin explanation, accepted it at face value, and issued no sanctions.

NPU looks very different than the handful of unaccredited, for-profit visa mills that were exposed and shut down after a government crackdown in 2011. It has far more students, and they do attend classes with teachers. Some of its students say they got valuable educations.

NPU’s president, Peter Hsieh, and his second-in-command, Paul Choi, refused through a representative to answer any questions in person or by phone when a reporter came to the university’s campus and to a conference in Dallas where Choi was in attendance. Through the representative, Hsieh and Choi asked to speak with an editor to discuss potential legal action against a person they believed was a source for the article.

In response to BuzzFeed News’ detailed outline of the allegations in this story, Hsieh wrote that the school offers a high-quality education to future business and technology leaders and has made “significant strides” in his time as president. The university, he said, maintains its fiduciary responsibility to its students, investing in quality faculty and planning for facilities improvements.

The school “denies your allegations of impropriety,” Hsieh wrote. He said that the school is “designing new policies for proper grade differentiation and thoroughly investigating and addressing academic deficiencies” and has spent “hundreds of hours updating and improving financial practices.”

“We have taken your allegations – albeit unfounded – seriously”

“We do not believe this is the proper forum to discuss the intricacies and operational details of NPU,” Hsieh wrote. “That said, we have taken your allegations — albeit unfounded — seriously, and will give them careful attention.”

BuzzFeed News has examined a trove of internal university documents, including more than a thousand of pages of bank statements, emails, and student records, and interviewed more than a dozen current and former students, faculty, and staff.

What emerged is a portrait of a university that epitomizes many of the key weaknesses in the American higher education and immigration systems: an institution that has used its nonprofit status to enrich its leaders and used its accreditation to dodge more stringent national security requirements.

The campus of Northwestern Polytechnic University. Michael J. Costa for BuzzFeed News

Even in the suburban Fremont neighborhood where Northwestern Polytechnic University owns dozens of buildings, the university is hard to pick out: A low-slung office park is its central campus, with parking lots instead of green space. Its central building looks less like a center of academic learning than a DMV, a cavernous lobby where students line up in front of rows of low cubicles.

As bland as the campus’s design is, the story of the institution’s rise is extraordinary: a mixture of personal ambition, institutional duplicity, national bureaucracy, and shifting geopolitics.

In 1991, when a Chinese immigrant named George Hsieh took over as president of NPU, it was a tiny operation, with just 16 students and a single, unaccredited degree program. Over the next 20 years, Hsieh would build NPU into a modest success: an accredited school with some 700 students, including a number from China and Taiwan.

It was only with the help of George Hsieh’s son, Peter, that NPU began to implement a bigger vision. Much bigger.

In 2013, when Peter, trained as a corporate lawyer, began working for the university, competition for Chinese students was increasing. So NPU turned to a vast new market, where people were eager for American degrees that could improve their standing in the annual skilled-worker visa lottery. That winter, the university tripled the amount it was paying to foreign recruiters — to $74,000, for a single trimester — and directed it not to China but to India.

It worked. Indian students began enrolling in huge numbers. Tuition revenue jumped 36%, to $12.7 million. It was one of NPU’s best financial years ever, according to public financial filings. And in its last month, the university paid all cash for a $2.2 million six-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bathroom home on a leafy suburban street called, somewhat ironically, Harvard Common. Peter Hsieh and his family promptly moved in.


By the end of the winter trimester, the university had a serious problem on its hands.

On a Saturday night in early January, George Hsieh emailed his top administrators. “I am terribly sorry to call this urgent meeting with such an extreme notice,” Hsieh wrote. “But I have no choice! We need to solve the grade distribution problem / guideline once for all before Monday.”

The problem, according to interviews with two people included on the email, was that the crop of Indian students NPU had paid to recruit that fall were floundering in their classes. Now the grades had come in, and it was too serious to ignore: Large numbers had gotten F’s or other grades low enough to eventually jeopardize the students’ visa status. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that oversees those visas, requires schools to revoke them when students don’t make “normal academic progress.” For graduate students at NPU, according to university catalogs posted online, that meant terminating the visas of anyone who had gone three semesters with a GPA below 3.0.

Hsieh came up with a stopgap solution.

What’s more, many Indian banks require student borrowers to prove they are in good standing with their university. If grades remained as low as they were, the administration worried, a large portion of the student body wouldn’t be able to pay for the next semester’s tuition.

Hsieh came up with a stopgap solution. He had final grades from the fall 2013 semester printed from the school’s faculty portal. Then, by hand, Hsieh started going down the list. One student, whose records show he was repeating a computer-science credit, had an F. Hsieh scrawled the young man’s new grade: C+. In another course, a student had gotten 35% on his midterm exam, and done even worse on his final. Hsieh changed his D- to a C+.

In total, more than 600 printed grades were changed by hand, records viewed by BuzzFeed News show. Some F’s became C+’s or even B-’s, B’s became A-’s, and C’s became B’s.

Hsieh gave the changed grades to an administrative worker and ordered them entered into the system, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. By the time Hsieh had finished, almost no students had a grade lower than C+.

In 2014, NPU increased the amount of money it spent on recruiters by an order of magnitude, internal financial records show. The school spent almost $1.7 million that year to recruit students through an elaborate network of overseas education consultants in Hyderabad, Mumbai, and other Indian cities — a 1,400% increase from the year before. By the beginning of 2015, the university was spending $800,000 in a single trimester for this one expense.

“We pretty much rely on word of mouth”

Memoranda of understanding between NPU and dozens of Indian education companies show that NPU offered recruiters 15% of the first year’s tuition for every admitted student they referred to the school. Documents instructed recruiters on how to pitch NPU to Indian students, encouraging them to say that NPU was “nationally accredited,” that its faculty all had advanced degrees, and even that it hosted a regional table tennis tournament.

In 2014, Indian students came to NPU in such large numbers that they strained the resources of the university, overwhelming employees and overstuffing classrooms, current and former employees say. The school more than doubled its number of active foreign visa students that year, from 1,634 to 3,728, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.

It was a result the school had spent heavily to achieve. But asked in January why his school had become a magnet for Indian students, Peter Hsieh told BuzzFeed News, “It was a complete shock to us. We do no marketing. We pretty much rely on word of mouth.”


George Hsieh’s hands-on intervention wasn’t the end of large-scale grade-changing at the school. In fact, school records and interviews show, it was the beginning of something much larger: In 2014, fake grades became institutionalized.

In the spring of 2014, internal emails show the school adopted a new, universitywide policy: It would be literally impossible for a student to fail a class. Instead of receiving an F (or for graduate students, a D- or D), students who did not earn a passing grade would get a W, meaning they had been withdrawn from the course at the last moment. Their GPA would be saved, and so, potentially, would their visa.

In May of that year, as final grades were rolling in for the spring semester, a TA in a lab course gave failing grades to several students. Wen Hsieh, a university administrator who is also George Hsieh’s wife, emailed the course’s professor, encouraging him to change their grades.

“For those students who hardly learned a thing and should repeat the course, a grade ‘W’ would serve the purpose,” she wrote. “This grade does not affect the student’s GPA, and hence for those students who rely on bank loan (from India) can have a chance to continue their studies here (when GPA is below standard and the student is placed on academic probation status, the loan is terminated).”

The professor promptly changed the grades.

The university even programmed its computer systems to enforce the no-fail rule. Faculty members logging onto the university portal in mid-2015 had to click a dialog box that read, “Please be advised that any grade less than the minimum to pass the course … will be recorded as a ‘Withdrawal’ in accordance with current policies,” a screenshot provided to BuzzFeed News shows.

Obtained by BuzzFeed News

In 2015, business was booming at NPU, and there were just too many applications for the school’s admissions office to handle. Courtney McCallion, who was an admissions officer at the time, told BuzzFeed News she was processing dozens of applications a day for at least a month, virtually all of them from India. At that pace, she could do little more than glance at students’ test scores to check that they appeared proficient in English and see if they had graduated above the 60th percentile. (McCallion was dismissed from her job in late 2015.)

But even that breakneck pace wasn’t enough: As applications piled up, administrators told her she had to handle as many as 100 applications per a day. Sometimes, she said, the photocopied diplomas and transcripts she was sent looked fake, but she didn’t have time to check.

When one school employee, specially tasked by the federal government with maintaining the records of foreign students, left the company, she complained about the workload during a written exit interview obtained by BuzzFeed News. In a single week, the officer said, she had been asked to process more than 150 students’ work-for-credit courses, 100 student applications, and 150 requests to transfer out of the university.

In 2015, NPU’s foreign visa count shot up yet again — this time by an astonishing 140% — to 9,024. That number pushed its foreign recruitment above all but a very small number of American universities. By the beginning of 2016, Peter Hsieh said, 95% of NPU’s entire student body was Indian.

Michael J. Costa for BuzzFeed News

The surge in foreign students had an overwhelming effect on NPU’s campus, according to interviews with current and former students and faculty members. Between 2013 and 2015, class sizes grew from 10 or 15 students to 70, even 120, instructors said. Four current and former faculty members described being overwhelmed by the influx of new students, many of whom, the instructors said, were vastly underprepared for coursework. The administration did not seem to care how many students were in a class, they said.

“They were running out of professors,” said McCallion. “They didn’t have enough room in the buildings.”

Despite the additional tuition revenue, the quality of the facilities did not seem to be improving. Nor were the materials professors were given, current faculty said. The student-to-teacher ratio was way up, but one professor said he was paid exactly what he’d gotten 10 years earlier, without even a cost-of-living raise.

By mid-2014, NPU adopted an entirely new grading scale for its master’s degree students, which lowered the threshold for failing grades by 20 percentage points. Now anyone scoring 40% or above would pass — and anyone scoring below that would get a W, for withdrawal. A student with a score of 59%, which would be an F at most schools, would now receive a C.

NPU kept the new grade scale to itself. The documents it had previously sent in to the school’s accreditor said the university required faculty to use the standard letter grade scale. The university also said that it had a strict policy on grade changes. According to the faculty handbook, which was approved by the accreditor, “Grades should be changed only if there has been an error in computation. No other reasons will be considered as a basis for a request for grade change.”

NPU generally got good marks from students. Of the seven current and former students interviewed by BuzzFeed News, most said they were satisfied with NPU. They said their teachers, who worked full-time jobs elsewhere, gave them practical advice and industry connections; one cited classmates who went on to work at prominent Silicon Valley tech companies. The price was right, too — about $12,500 a year, plus a $500 discount for every trimester that they recruited a new student to the school.

Students cited many reasons for attending NPU: low fees, easy admissions, proximity to Silicon Valley, and the school’s community of Indian students, who were connected to a vibrant Indian immigrant community in Fremont. Most of them said they came to NPU because they hoped to get a visa that would allow them to work in the United States.

Munesh Khatri, a recent graduate, got his second American master’s degree from NPU, after graduating from Wichita State with a master’s in economics. He’s now studying at Silicon Valley University, another Bay Area school with 90% foreign students, working toward what will be his fourth master’s degree — he got his first in Pakistan.

“I had a very good experience at NPU,” Khatri said. “NPU’s a very good university. They have a lot of innovative practices.”


In late 2015, the school experienced its first period of intense public scrutiny. In December, U.S. immigration authorities denied entry to a large number of Indian students heading to NPU as well as to Silicon Valley University. Air India prevented the students from boarding flights, saying the schools had been “blacklisted” by the American government.

The blacklisting reports were untrue, but the story spread quickly through the Indian press. The Times of India wrote a follow-up story on Dec. 23 that called NPU “dodgy” and a “massive academic rip-off.”

The school’s legal and public relations machine went into overdrive. It sent cease-and-desist letters to newspapers and it threatened to sue Air India.

“For the betterment of the integrity of the institution”

On Jan. 23, Peter Hsieh held a press conference. Standing in front of a huge plastic banner bearing the university’s logo, he said claims about the school were false: It was not a visa mill, but an accredited nonprofit that invested heavily in its academics. The surge in Indian students was a happy accident, the result of satisfied alumni and booming demand for American educations. And finally, he said that the school itself was not under any type of scrutiny by the Department of Homeland Security.

Behind the scenes, however, that department had assigned an investigator to look into the school, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told BuzzFeed News.

In the weeks between the Times of India’s story and Hsieh’s press conference, the school began cleaning up its act. Internal emails show that NPU reversed the no-fail policy on Jan. 4, 2016. In an email explaining the change, an administrator wrote, “Starting approximately 2 years ago, NPU implemented an unwritten rule that students receiving no passing grades (e.g., D+ or less for Masters students) would receive an automatic Withdrawal (W) grade in replace of the no passing grade.” The policy was being changed, the emails aid, “for the betterment of the integrity of the institution.”

The school posted the redacted visas of current students to its Facebook page on Dec. 23 and 24, 2015.

With the school’s summer term set to begin in May 2016, some 1,500 students — almost a quarter of the student body — were still traveling and did not plan to return for days or even weeks after school had begun. In an email to the school, executive vice president Paul Choi asked students to return on time — in part, he said, because it would affect their classes, but also out of concern for their immigration status and the school’s image with immigration authorities.

“You may have done this in the past with little troubles, but we believe things will be different this time,” Choi wrote. “We do not wish to add fuel to the fire by having a couple of thousand NPU students returning late for their Summer Term.”

In one last safeguard for the school’s reputation, the university repeatedly warned students, faculty, and graduates not to talk to press. If contacted by BuzzFeed, it said in campuswide messages, “please do not respond and do not speak or make any direct contact with the reporters.” It instructed faculty to report any students who had spoken to BuzzFeed to the administration.

“Especially,” one email said, “do not click on or share any BuzzFeed articles relating to NPU or higher education.”


In his response to the Indian media reports, Peter Hsieh assured the press that the school appeared “modest” for a reason. “We focus all of our energy, all of our students’ tuition dollars into education,” he said at a press conference.

That claim is not backed up by the school’s own financial statements. Thanks to the huge surge in students, NPU’s revenue grew more than 200% in 2014, the most recent year for which nonprofit financial filings are publicly available, to $40 million. But the university’s spending on employee salaries — almost always a university’s greatest expense — plummeted, from $4.4 million to just $1.4 million.

If those numbers are accurate, the university spent more money on payments to Indian recruiting firms than it did on the combined salaries of all of its employees. Its total expenses in 2014, public filings say, grew from $7 to $11 million, leaving a surplus of $29 million — a 75% margin.

The biggest beneficiary of the millions in NPU’s bank accounts appears to be the family that controls the university.

NPU says its $77 million is overseen — as the law requires — by an independent board, tasked with keeping the university’s finances in order. But BuzzFeed News has found that the board is not independent at all, and has allowed the Hsieh family to reap valuable benefits from NPU without disclosing them to the public.

A tangled web of family members controls virtually every aspect of the university: In 2014 and 2015, five members of the Hsieh family worked in leadership at the university, and a sixth was employed as a contractor.

For many years, George Hsieh was the university’s president and his brother-in-law, Bill Wu, was the school’s chief financial officer. After starting at the university in 2013, George’s son, Peter, rose to the rank of executive vice president, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer. Peter Hsieh’s wife, Sunny Oh, also worked for the school as a contractor: Tax records show she was paid $66,000 by the university in 2014.

When George Hsieh retired in September 2015, he handed the reins of the presidency to Peter and gave his position at the head of the school’s governing board to his wife, Wen Hsieh, who had been an administrator at the school and was also Peter’s mother and Bill’s sister.

Peter Hsieh followed in his father’s footsteps, employing his brother-in-law, Paul Choi, as his executive vice president.

The transfer of leadership positions to George Hsieh’s wife and son was unanimously approved by a vote of NPU’s board. But the board had only three people on it, and Hsieh was one of them. The other two were professors who had long been on the school’s payroll. Though NPU reported to the IRS in 2014 that the men received no compensation for their service on the board, on March 14, 2015, the day that they voted to install Peter Hsieh and his mother, both professors received checks for $2,500 from the university. In the checks’ subject line: “Gratitude / meeting fee”.

Obtained by BuzzFeed News

With just three members, NPU’s board is exceptionally tiny, a quality that nonprofit experts say is often a red flag that could potentially indicate weak governance. None of its members are independent from the university.

Until 2010, on audited financial disclosures to the IRS the school listed another board member: a woman named JoNelle Zager. But Zager, a chiropractor, said she hadn’t been on the university’s board for “close to twenty years — fifteen at least.” She has been living in Texas for more than a decade.


Peter and George Hsieh collected large but not outrageous salaries in 2014 — $260,000 and $300,000, respectively. On forms submitted to the IRS, the university attested that the two men received no additional compensation. But those salaries are far from the only way they and their families benefited from the school.

The university purchased a $2.2 million home in December 2013, a month after drafting the contract to hire Peter Hsieh full-time. He moved in a few months later. In 2013 the university also bought a $1.5 million, four-bedroom house on a hilly, leafy Fremont street. Hsieh’s brother-in-law, Paul Choi, soon moved in.

It’s not unusual for college presidents to live in university-owned homes, which they use to host events and entertain faculty and donors. The University of Dayton, which has more than 11,000 students, spent $1.55 million on a house in 2015; the University of Florida, with 50,000 students, spent $3.1 million to build a new house in 2014.

NPU had fewer than 2,000 students at the time it spent $3.7 million on homes occupied by Choi and Hsieh. The year it purchased the homes, it reported a total of $7.5 million in expenses for the entire school.

In total, property records show, the university has spent more than $10 million on real estate zoned for single families in Fremont — seven four-bedroom homes worth more than $1 million each, including the house down the block from Peter Hsieh’s on Harvard Common, which is also worth over $2 million.

County records show that the university owns a considerable amount of property that is not used for educational purposes at all: condos, industrial facilities, even strip-mall storefronts. In mid-2014, with its enrollment sharply rising, NPU bought a condominium in Mountain View, 20 miles away from campus. An electricity bill from the condo, on a road called Easy Street, is in the name of Sunny Oh, Peter Hsieh’s wife.

“The assets of a charity belong to the public, not to those who control the charity,” said Jill Manny, a professor at New York University School of Law and the executive director of the Center on Philanthropy and the Law. Nonprofits “cannot distribute assets of the organization to organizational insiders, other than as reasonable compensation for services rendered or, in some circumstances, for goods provided,” she said.

Peter Hsieh frequently used university funds for personal expenses, a source said. University records show hundreds of day-to-day expenses charged to the school — Mega Mango smoothies from Jamba Juice, evening grocery runs at Trader Joe’s, coffees at Starbucks.

Receipts that were included as business expenses. Obtained by BuzzFeed News

Choi, for his part, had NPU pay for $1,200 in Ikea furniture — bookcases for his second-floor family room and materials for the closet in his master bedroom — and, from Home Depot, a $150 toilet seat.

The school’s failure to disclose the many benefits reaped by Hsieh, Choi, and his family — such as accommodation in university-owned housing — is no small matter, said Marc Owens, a lawyer who headed the IRS’ exempt-organizations division for 10 years and is now a partner at the law firm Loeb & Loeb. He reviewed multiple years of NPU’s public financial filings for BuzzFeed News.

The university’s lack of disclosure “certainly results in an incomplete and inaccurate return, which could lead to the imposition of penalties,” Owens said. It “might even be construed as an effort to mislead the Internal Revenue Service, a transgression that carries criminal penalties.”


At the end of 2014, someone inside Northwestern Polytechnic University became outraged enough to blow the whistle. But instead of going to the Department of Homeland Security or the Education Department, the employee went to an obscure nonprofit that wields tremendous power in the world of higher education: the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

Oversight of American higher education rests in large part on a group of independent watchdogs called accreditors, whom the government entrusts to vet a school’s academics and student performance. Schools that win the accreditors’ approval reap significant benefits: They can tap into the trillion-dollar federal student loan system, and, more importantly for Northwestern Polytechnic University, they can sponsor American student visas — a highly sought-after commodity across the world — with minimal oversight.

But these accreditors are private entities, and despite their effect on public funds, there is little oversight of the work that they do. Schools choose which accreditor they wish to be judged by, and many institutions shop around in search of the one they feel will view them in the most favorable light.

The whistleblower made bold claims: that NPU had been systematically lying for years.

ACICS was a remarkable choice. The accreditor says that when assessing a school’s quality and success, it relies heavily on one valuable metric: the percentage of students who found jobs in their field of study. ACICS requires the schools it assesses to make that data available — but not for foreign students. Which means that NPU maintained its accreditation despite omitting data for the vast majority of its student body last year.

The whistleblower made bold claims: that NPU had been systematically lying for years, deceiving the agency about many key aspects of its academic offerings.

NPU was dramatically understaffed in the face of enrollment that had doubled in the space of a year, the letter said. Short on instructors, the school had hired current master’s degree students to teach other master’s degree students, a violation of ACICS’s policies. It was enrolling as many as 80 students in a class with a single instructor. And it had been changing students’ grades.

The letter detailed the lengths to which NPU had gone, on the rare, three-day site visits the accreditor used to decide whether to extend the university’s stamp of approval.

As one current and one former faculty member have since confirmed, on those days, the university’s key faculty were required to take the day off from the full-time jobs they held elsewhere. During the accreditor’s visit in 2012, some professors spent the day in offices where they normally didn’t sit, and taught classes with slides that had been provided to them by the administration, said a former faculty member.

Students were fed lines about what to tell the accreditor’s staff — for example, that all students were required to purchase their own textbooks. A current faculty member said he was asked to oversee classes he did not normally teach.

Sometimes the university even brought in outside help. In the mid-2000s the university had no librarian, a position that the accreditor required. So for the site visit, NPU simply paid a librarian from another institution to come and pretend they worked there.

The whistleblower laid all this out, and even gave ACICS instructions on how to verify the allegations, including the names of people to interview and photocopies of their LinkedIn pages.

ACICS wrote to the university, requesting that it provide a chart of its enrollment numbers, along with a description of how it was maintaining its programs’ “stability.” The accreditor also asked for “data sheets” and signed job descriptions for its librarian and “all full-time faculty members.”

ACICS was apparently satisfied with the school’s answers.

At the time, even NPU’s so-called deans were employed a semester at a time, and most worked there only on the side, while holding down full-time jobs elsewhere.

But ACICS was apparently satisfied with the school’s answers. Northwestern Polytechnic University kept its accreditation without any sanctions.

ACICS said it was “deeply troubled by the serious allegations confronting NPU,” in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “ACICS takes quality assurance of its accredited institutions seriously, and will condition or withdraw accreditation from schools that fail to comply with Council standards, or with local, state or federal laws.”

A spokesperson for the accreditor said that it had “independently corroborated” much of what BuzzFeed’s story alleges, and that it was now “working hand-in-hand” with the Department of Homeland Security to “root out any allegations of fraudulent activity.”

This past April, an NPU faculty member, David Hildebrandt, was invited to speak at the accreditor’s annual conference. After a BuzzFeed News inquiry, Hildebrandt was removed from the speaking lineup. His presentation was to be titled “The Acculturation of Foreign Students Into Your University.”

Michael J. Costa for BuzzFeed News

An accreditor could have changed the way Northwestern Polytechnic University operated if it had asked the school harder questions about its practices or done an independent investigation of the whistleblower’s allegations. Even a single surprise site visit might have produced very different results.

A truly independent board of directors could have held NPU to its financial responsibilities to its students. The Internal Revenue Service might have been able to force some changes, too, if it had investigated the claims that NPU made on its financial disclosure forms. And the Department of Homeland Security could have, as well, if it had looked into the circumstances by which, somehow, every last one of NPU’s students managed to get the good grades that their visas required.

Twelve state attorneys general have repeatedly called for the Education Department to revoke ACICS’s government recognition. One of them is Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Told about the way the organization handled matters at Northwestern Polytechnic, Healy told BuzzFeed News, “We are baffled and outraged that ACICS continues to operate as a recognized accreditor.”

In the end it was only individual members of the NPU community who spoke out about the circumstances they observed. The whistleblower declined to elaborate on the letter that was sent to ACICS. But another former employee spoke to BuzzFeed News about the need to expose the university’s practices.

After years of silence, the employee decided it was time for the public to know the truth.

“The issues surrounding NPU are not only about education, but also about tax exemption and immigration. Laws are abused. Employees are threatened. Expressions are suppressed,” the employee said. “Those wrongdoings have to be stopped and corrected.” •

Molly Hensley-Clancy is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. She covers the intersection of business and education.
Contact Molly Hensley-Clancy at molly.hensley-clancy@buzzfeed.com.

An Astonishing Tale of Foreign Worker Exploitation by Silicon Valley’s Darling Carmaker, Tesla

Instead of exporting jobs, some companies arrange for immigrants to come to America. But there’s a catch.

Photo Credit: Mercurynews/YouTube

It’s no question that immigration and outsourcing are two of the hottest topics in the presidential election. But some companies are facilitating both and losing big in the process. Take Tesla, for example.

“When Gregor Lesnik left his pregnant girlfriend in Slovenia for a job in America, his visa application described specialized skills and said he was a supervisor headed to a South Carolina auto plant. Turns out, that wasn’t true,” writes Louis Hansen for the Mercury News.

Instead of going to South Carolina to oversee American workers, Lesnik was sent to work in California’s Silicon Valley by the very companies that arranged his suspicious visa, where he earned a mere $5 an hour.

“Lesnik’s three-month tenure ended a year ago in a serious injury and a lawsuit that has exposed a troubling practice in the auto industry. Overseas contractors are shipping workers from impoverished countries to American factories, where they work long hours for low wages, in apparent violation of visa and labor laws,” Hansen writes.

Lesnik was one of 140 workers from Eastern Europe building a new paint shop at Tesla’s Fremont plant. However under U.S. immigration law, workers on B1/B2 visas are largely banned from performing hands-on jobs, such as Lesnik’s role installing ventilation pipes. After falling 30 feet, breaking both legs and losing consciousness in a factory accident, Lesnik’s Slovenian employer advised that Lesnik return home. Lesnik did return; but he isn’t done with Tesla just yet.

Tesla is one of several companies Lesnik is suing. The lawsuit includes claims for back wages and damages.

In breaking the story, Hansen, with help from staff writer Matt O’Brien, conducted dozens of interviews with employees, as well as an extensive review of payroll, visa and court documents.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims to have just caught wind of the story yesterday, and says he aims to “make it right.”

Watch:

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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