MIT tells staff to expect visits from ICE

Official urges cooperation with immigration officials

MIT has sent a memo to faculty and staff notifying them that they should expect a visit from federal authorities to assess the immigration status of researchers, postdoctoral students, and visiting scholars.

The Boston Globe acquired the message, sent faculty-wide, entitled “Potential Homeland Security Visits.”

The Department of Homeland Security and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement began visiting employers of post-graduate students last August, focusing at least initially on students holding academic visas in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The visits actually began during the Bush administration and procedures were updated during the Obama administration, but haven’t occurred very often..

The memo sent from Penny Rosser, director of MIT’s international scholars office, urged cooperation with immigration officials.

According to the federal register, immigration officials will generally give 48 hours notice of any visit, but “may conduct an unannounced site visit if it is triggered by a complaint or other evidence of noncompliance with regulations.”

ICE officials verify visa documents are up to date and authentic, and will also check worksites and potentially ask about how the university funds or decides upon the students’ salaries.

In December, the Boston Herald reported Chinese cancer researcher Zaosong Zheng had made false statements on his Harvard University-sponsored visa. He was working at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which fired him and revoked his visa after the FBI said he stole vials from a lab and tried to smuggle them to China.

Yossi Sheffi, director of MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, told the Globe that the visit could be a good way to make sure students were in a workplace with fair labor standards. “One can interpret it as a good idea — checking that these people are not being exploited,” Sheffi said. “Alternatively, who knows?”

Employers must properly pay students with visas, ensure that the student will not replace a full or part-time US citizen worker, and have trained personnel to help the student with ultimate work goals.

President Trump has been cracking down on visa fraud, often through questionable means. Last year, the Detroit Free Press uncovered that ICE in 2015 created a fake University of Farmington to track visa fraud.  About 250 students were arrested, but some of the students who were not deported are suing ICE, saying they were duped and lured to the program.