Gaming the Student Visa System

by Liam Knox at

Portland State University isn’t the type of institution one would expect to have much name recognition outside Oregon, let alone thousands of miles across the Pacific. Yet a few years ago, the mostly local-serving public university began attracting an unusually large number of international applicants, primarily from India and Bangladesh.

The university’s leaders were pleasantly surprised: for a regional public college that relies heavily on tuition revenue, full-paying international students can play a big role in meeting enrollment goals. Last year Portland State accepted 46 international students from India and Bangladesh and received deposits from 20 of them.

But when the semester started last September, only three of those students signed up for classes—a devastating gap between expected and actual yield.

“When we first saw all these applications from India and Bangladesh, we got excited because it reminded us of when China was really exploding,” said Lindsay Stamsos, international admission counselor and coordinator for global recruitment and outreach at Portland State. “Then we realized these students weren’t actually enrolling in classes.”

Stamsos said the problem of missing international students on her campus has gone on for a few years now. In 2023 her four-person team, struck by the number of absentees, meticulously scrutinized their international applications. They concluded that about 65 percent of their applications from India and Bangladesh—and 14 percent of all international applications—were likely fraudulent, presenting either real names with fake details or completely fabricated identities.

“That’s kind of nuts. We’re a pretty big institution, so that’s a lot of people,” she said. “And that’s the minimum, I would say. That’s a conservative estimate.”