It’s no joke that living and studying in the US costs a pretty penny. So, instead of paying the hefty tuitions of universities on top of living expenses, some young foreigners have been taking a sneakier route to staying in the States.

Recently some “students” have been opting for “institutions” like the four schools recently closed down for fraud in Los Angeles, which function under a “pay-to-stay” program, where the “students” basically pay for a student visa with no expectations of attending classes, wishing only to stay and work in the U.S.

On March 11, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations officers sprung a surprise visit on the flagship school of Hee Sun Shim, a 51 year-old Korean-American. The school, Prodee University in Los Angeles, was supposedly attended by 900 students, but the officers only found three students in the institution.

▼ There were desks and classrooms, but no students.


Further investigation found that three other affiliated schools, Walter Jay MD Institute, American College of Forensic Studies and Likie Fashion and Technology College were also fake.

On paper, the four schools had a total of about 1,500 students per year, each paying US$1,800 in “school fees” for a six month program. These fees basically covered the student visa and the salary for Shim and his associates, who have collected US$6 million over the past few years of operation.

The students, mostly Korean and Chinese nationals, would collect their student visas but never step foot in a classroom, instead looking for work and enjoying life in the US. Investigators found that the students often didn’t even stay anywhere near where the schools were located (Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood in the case of three of the schools), instead venturing as far away from California as Illinois.

▼ Three of the four schools were located in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.


Shim, the head of the schools and two of his associates, all of whom additionally faked transcripts and other schools documents, were arrested and have been indicted for visa fraud, money laundering, and other immigration offenses.

As far as the “students” go, they are expected to report to authorities as soon as possible, which seems doubtful given the circumstances, but probably the smart thing to do, as getting caught at the airport later may lead to harsher consequences.

▼ Getting caught by the HSI would probably not be a pleasant experience.


Instead of fraudulently entering the U.S. to work, foreign young adults could look into options such as working holiday visas, which are. admittedly, not very extensive, but have new pilot programs opening up, including one for South Korean students.

There are probably other similar companies out there making bank on these fake exchange students, but hopefully they aren’t ripping off anyone who’s trying to enter the States legally and for a good education! But with Homeland Security cracking down, we may be seeing more stories like this popping up in the future.

Sources: Livedoor News via Hosyusokuhou, Los Angeles Times, U.S. Department of State
Images: Pixabay (Taken), Wikimedia Commons (M. Johnson), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (1, 2)