Small-Scale Immigration Problem: Young Chinese Tourists in Public Schools

By David North on March 20, 2018

Some immigration policy problems are larger than others; think of 11 million illegal immigrants and a million or so H-1Bs, all depressing the labor market and displacing American workers.

Then there are the aliens with tourist cards attending public schools; these are often from China.

This is a problem because under most circumstances aliens with tourist visas are not allowed by the terms of their visa to attend public schools. So it is an illegal practice. It also swells both the general population needlessly, and the school populations where they are enrolled. Further, given many of the students' lack of proficient English, they may be more expensive per head than the average student in the same system.

On the other hand, the numbers do not seem to be massive, the practice does not lead to permanent legal status (unlike babies born here to birth-tourist mothers), there are no labor market impacts, and the extra costs to the taxpayers are usually borne by school districts of above-average prosperity. (The Chinese parents, for some reason, do not put their kids into the Mississippi schools.)

In short, a problem for the United States, but not a major one.

Further, it is part of a larger picture of the nervous Chinese wealthy and their interest in getting their kids (and themselves) into this country. It fits in nicely with birth tourism, as described by my former colleague Jon Feere; with the Chinese domination of the EB-5 (immigrant investor) program; and with the fact that the largest percentage of foreign students here is from China.

In a sense, all these phenomena are compliments to the United States — it is not just the poor of the world who want to come here; the would-be students, in this case, are coming from a huge, powerful nation of increasing prosperity, and from the upper 1 or 2 percent of that nation's population in terms of wealth.

Another irony about this situation is that the most obvious solution to it is counter-productive.

If a student is violating his or her visa by attending the public schools, one answer is to take away the visa and make that student an illegal alien. While the public schools have no real legal obligation to teach kids on tourist visas, they would have a legal obligation, under the Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, to educate them as illegal aliens.

All of this is part of — remember it is an immigration matter — a complex picture of just which aliens can study in this country and who cannot; and if they do so, what visa is appropriate.

Some of the nuances:

  • It is okay for alien kids to get F-1 student visas to go to private K-12 schools, but not public ones.
  • It seems to be okay for some kids of tourists on B visas to attend public schools if they have derivative visas and live with their B-visa parents who have legal long-term presence in the nation (which can happen if the parents are seeking to adjust to a long-term work visa).
  • It is not appropriate for children on B visas, not living with such parents, to attend public schools.
  • Virtually all nonimmigrant visas other than those of tourists allow the children to attend public schools.

What to do?

My main suggestion would be to announce to the world that no tourist visas for children five to 18 be issued for more than six months; or, alternatively, see to it that no admissions of such children, granted at the ports of entry, would be for more than six months.

Further, that if children on tourist visas were found to be in public school, they, their siblings, their parents, and their grandparents would be barred from admission to the United States for any reason for a period of no less than five years.

In addition, I would suggest that his policy be announced in letters to the nation's school superintendents and that it be publicized in media followed by the overseas Chinese, such as World-Journal and Qiao Bao.