Chinese gov. official allegedly uses American colleges to commit visa fraud

Zhongsan Liu allegedly acted with the knowledge and consent of his superiors to acquire visas illegally.

A long-running FBI investigation was responsible for the alleged crime’s discovery.

The U.S. government charged a Chinese government employee in September for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to fraudulently obtain U.S. visas for Chinese government employees, using a university to mask the alleged scam.

Zhongsan Liu runs the New York branch of the China Association for International Exchange of Personnel (CAIEP), according to the Justice Department press release. CAIEP is a Chinese government agency that focuses on recruiting U.S. academics, scientists, engineers etc. to work in China.

The 22-page complaint alleges that Liu worked to fraudulently obtain U.S. visas for multiple Chinese government employees. Officials allege that Liu directly worked with one of these employees to obtain a visa. Although the worker (identified in the complaint as CC-1) represented to the U.S. Government that she was entering the U.S. for the primary purpose of conducting research at an unnamed university in Georgia, her actual purpose consisted of performing full-time talent recruitment work at CAIEP.  

The Wall Street Journal identified the University of Georgia as one of seven targets in the visa fraud.

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UGA alumnus and former Campus Reform Correspondent Andrew Lawrence reacted to the news.

"Academic freedom is a bastion of American society, and any attempt to defraud our visa system and take advantage of our process that welcomes intellectuals from around the world should not be ignored and should not go unpunished," Lawrence told Campus Reform

"I am disturbed that this scheme to recruit students from our world-renowned institution went unnoticed. This is a true threat to our national security, and it is embarrassing that a representative of the People’s Republic of China was able to infiltrate seven institutions of higher learning in our country. This is surely damning to our relationship with China and says a great deal about their intellectual integrity and confidence in their ability to lead the world in innovation," Lawrence added.

Liu allegedly helped CC-1 take measures to enhance her false appearance as a research scholar by guiding her to report to the university, getting her a driver’s license in Georgia, and instructing her to visit the college while being employed full-time at CAIEP. 

“As alleged, Zhongsan Liu conspired to obtain research scholar visas fraudulently for people whose actual purpose was not research but recruitment,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said, according to the release. “Rather than helping to bring students to the U.S., Liu allegedly conspired to defraud this country’s visa system to advance his efforts to attract U.S. experts to China. Thanks to the FBI, this alleged abuse of the visa system has been halted.”

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The J-1 Research Scholar Program is intended for foreign nationals conducting research at research institutions like libraries, museums, and universities.

“The allegation that an employee of a foreign government has worked to mask the true purpose of an individual’s presence in the United States isn’t news to the FBI,” FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said, according to the release. “This alleged behavior should be another alarm bell that foreign governments are constantly working to exploit research work being conducted throughout the United States.  Not everyone shares the honest goal of conducting open research to benefit society as a whole.” 

“This case is another example of the pervasive and organized effort, in this instance an allegedly flat-out illegal one, to fulfill a top priority of collecting information to advantage a foreign adversary,” the assistant director continued. “Putting a halt to Mr. Liu’s alleged actions are [sic] an important and significant step to highlighting these activities. The FBI New York, along with our intelligence community partners, will continue to disrupt the behavior when it is detected.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @arik_schneider