Election scam: How Russian students get to vote for Joe Biden


This article describes purported usage of the J-1 Summer Work and Travel USA program (SWT) participants’ personal information to falsify the 2020 US Presidential election. Relevant information comes from Russian speaking swt participants. It turns out if you want to vote in US elections you don’t have to be an American citizen. All you must have done is to have participated in the J-1 SWT “Cultural Exchange” program.

50 bucks for vote

Could the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election be decided by Russian students? Could Joe Biden win because of the votes of Russian students?

Sounds like a bizarre question or maybe a scam? Well, I thought so too… until recently . Indeed, two years ago when I started researching Summer Work and Travel program in Russia I never thought I would end up writing about politics. But as a former SWT participant who has become the US citizen I feel moral responsibility to bring this issue to the American public.

As I was studying and documenting violations in the program, I came across various posts on social media about “falsification of US Presidential elections”. The following are examples of such posts (in Russian) with added English translation below the communication’s screenshot:

Figure 1. Hello! I would like to buy your data, photo of visa + W2 / SSN form = 50-75$ (of any age, even not an active visa will work). The data will be used to falsify the voting results of the US elections on November 3, 2020. I guarantee confidentiality, if you are interested, I propose to continue in telegram: @alexandrapostupaeva22.

Figure 2. Hello! Please tell me, have you been in the USA? |Hello, yes. |Surely, you have documents such as a visa and a w2 form!|Have it|I have an offer to buy a photo of your visa and w2 form. Need it for US Election (November 3, 2020)|what else?|Nothing|I can offer you 7000 rubles for 2 photos

Figure 3. Surely, you have documents such as a visa and a w2 form!|Have it|I have an offer to buy a photo of your visa and w2 form. Need it for the US Election (November 3, 2020). I’ll tell you right away, everything is legal and according to the law|Have to decline|What is the reason for refusal|Lack of desire|Well, I  can offer you 10000 rubles, for 2 photos

At first encounter, I did not pay attention to it, but the frequency of these occurrences have steadily increased 3-4 months leading to November 2020. Another peculiarity bothered me more – only students who have participated in the swt program were being contacted and offered to sell their personal data (SSN, W-2, visa data, etc.) to “falsify” US Presidential elections. Such clearly observable trend has spiked my interest –  it is an indication of organized dump of the swt participants’ data. It looks like someone who has a list of swt program participants shared it with scammers who would use it for US voter fraud.

Being familiar with the SSN fraud and other gross violations in the program, this scam did not appear completely shocking. To make an informed opinion however, I wanted to answer three questions:

  1. Does voter fraud exist in the US election – is it actually possible to cheat the voting system?
  2. Are there instances of fraud in the SWT program?
  3. Who has students’ information and who would benefit from the scam?

Here is what I’ve found:

1. US voter fraud is not a myth

While I was skeptical about voter scam, it turns out, the US voter fraud is real, it is not a myth. Prominent election researchers stated that “voter fraud is a well-documented reality in American elections”. The authors noted that “Just this year, a sheriff and county clerk in West Virginia pleaded guilty to stuffing ballot boxes with fraudulent absentee ballots that changed the outcome of an election… Almost 200 felons have already been convicted of voting illegally in that election and dozens of other prosecutions are still pending… In 2005, a state senate election in Tennessee was overturned because of voter fraud. The margin of victory? 13 votes. In 2008, the Minnesota senate race that provided the 60th vote needed to pass Obamacare was decided by a little over 300 votes.” Authors stated that “While Americans frequently demand observers and best practices in the elections of other countries, we need to scrutinize our own elections”. Researchers concluded that the “public confidence in the integrity of the voting system has been seriously eroded and is at an all-time low”.

Next, the former House Speaker William Howell said “Oftentimes we hear our [Democratic] colleagues suggest that voter fraud doesn’t exist in Virginia or is a myth. Well, it does indisputably exist.”

So what about foreigners voting in US elections? Well, the issue of noncitizens or dead people voting is not new and previous elections have been full of coverage about it. Here are just a few examples:

Non-citizens voting in US elections

The Washington Post 6 years ago cited a study which among other things stated:

  1. Enough non-citizens register for vote and actually vote so that non-citizens participation “can change the outcome of close races.”
  2. “we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections. Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin. It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina. Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.”
  3. “We also find that one of the favorite policies advocated by conservatives to prevent voter fraud appears strikingly ineffective. Nearly three quarters of the non-citizens who indicated they were asked to provide photo identification at the polls claimed to have subsequently voted.”

Other voter fraud examples include:

The Texas attorney general announced he was “investigating mailers sent to non-citizens by the state Democratic Party asking them to register using applications that already had the box asking about citizenship checked ‘Yes.’”

Texas officials announced that they’d found the names of nearly 100,000 “possible noncitizens” on their voter registrations rolls and that as many as 58,000 of them may have voted in elections over the previous 22-year period.

19 foreign nationals charged for voting in the 2016 elections.

Canadians voting in California: “California was recently forced to admit that it had mistakenly registered almost 25,000 ineligible voters. The state didn’t even realize it was registering noncitizens until a Canadian who is a permanent resident of the U.S. contacted The Los Angeles Times to say he had been improperly registered under the state’s new automatic voter registration system.”

Dead Americans still up and voting 

Investigation uncovered that “votes being cast from grave year after year.”

Officials in Colorado acknowledged “very serious” voter fraud after learning of votes cast in multiple elections under the names of recently-deceased residents.

The North Carolina Board of Elections revealed that “more than 35,000 people may have double voted by casting ballots in North Carolina and another state during the 2012 election.“

In 2019 “Lawsuit: Detroit has thousands of dead people on voter lists“.

In 2012 article reported that “A new report by the Pew Center on the States finds that more than 1.8 million dead people are currently registered to vote. And 24 million registrations are either invalid or inaccurate.“

A senior legal fellow and a former member of the election integrity commission said the database is merely “the tip of the iceberg.” “There’s actually more fraud occurring out there than actually gets reported and prosecuted,” he said.

Indeed, if it is not reported it does not mean it is not happening.

So… Quick online research shows that US voter fraud is not a myth – it is a real threat to American elections.

2. Are there instances of fraud in the SWT program?

Ton of it. There are many examples of different types of fraud in the swt program and scam involving swt participants. This article for instance, describes swt SSN, tax refund and cyber scam. This study describes the criminal history of the swt program and specifically involvement of Russian students.

3. Who has students’ information and who would benefit from the scam?

The clearly observable trend of only students who participated in the swt program being offered to participate in an election scam suggests a systematic and organized dump of participants’ information. It is important to understand who has a broad list of swt participants and who has motivation to share it to falsify US elections. To find out, let’s examine the swt operating structure depicted below.

Key entities involved in Summer Work and Travel Program. Source: GAO
  • The US Department of State, via its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA),  has participants’ records of all 14 J-1 categories. The State is notorious for protecting the swt program with missionary intensity citing foreign policy objectives. Another reason, if Trump’s order to suspend the J-1 program becomes permanent, the entire ECA division will cease to exist. Beyond job security concerns, ECA financially depends on J-1 programs through participants’ fees (non refundable Sevis and consulate fees) and sponsors’ fees. In fact, in 2012 federal auditors referred to this setup as a potential conflict of interest: “Fees generated through the sponsor designation and biennial redesignation processes, participant payments for program adjustments, and participant SEVIS fees currently fund all designations and compliance positions. Several EC staff members believe that their jobs ultimately depend on the level of revenues generated by these processes. This arrangement creates a potential conflict of interest. … The Department’s reputation can be placed at risk when staff focuses on the quantity of fee-paying participants and sponsors rather than on the quality of the visitors’ experiences” [30].
  • SWT sponsors collectively (<50) have records of more than million of foreign swt participants. For US sponsors, which essentially operate as visa mills, the SWT program is a highly profitable business. “Non-profit” sponsors collect more 100 million dollars annually from participants’ fees. The J-1 programs are so lucrative that non-profit large sponsor CIEE, for example, derived 97% of its $143 millions revenues from students’ fees and paid $700K to its CEO in 2016 [131]. Current swt structure allows sponsors to collect millions of dollars from foreign students and pay on average $200K to its CEOs[131]. For these reasons, the US federal inspectors concluded that sponsors bring swt students at “considerable financial gain to the sponsor for each application processed and visa obtained” [13]. DHS official also stated that swt sponsors “make a hell of a lot of money and the profit margin is enormous”[131]. Estimation of sponsors’ total expenses and fees charged shows that “non-profit” sponsors get about 400 dollars in profits from each participant or almost three times more what sponsors spend. In contrast, participants spend about $3,000 and get cultural content worth 50 times less (< 2%). Because of this huge profit margin sponsors vehemently protect the swt program. Sponsors have essentially monetized swt public diplomacy and turned it into a cash making enterprise. Interestingly, although Trump’ proclamation suspended J-1 programs in June, swt sponsors nonetheless began recruitment for the 2021 season in fall 2020.
  • Overseas recruiting agents for many years have accumulated vast amounts of participants’ information. Although they do not have students’ SSN, they do have a list of thousands of swt participants. For example, two largest Russian swt agents collectively have information about more than 150,000 Russian swt participants.

For Russian agents, the swt program is a golden opportunity to make easy money in a low-income country. For example, with about 4,000 participants sent in 2018 and 2019, swt agencies in Russia made annually about $1.2-3.4 millions or 78-220 millions in Russian currency. In comparison, the average personal annual income in Russia is about 250K rubles. Because of these huge profits agents adamantly and aggressively protect the program.

Russian agents have earned bad reputation of unscrupulous overseas recruiters – they sell swt participants’ SSN in batches, mislead and cheat applicants, do not refund money, etc. Nonetheless, US sponsors, who vet foreign agents, call them “reliable and trusted overseas partners”. Sponsors and the State essentially operate as one entity within a plausible deniability framework. Overseas agents are doing all the dirty work of corrupt swt recruitment while their US bosses stay clean.

Plenty of documented cases show how cash-hungry Russian agents put profits above moral principles. Indeed, weak rules of law, low business ethical standards and entrenched corruption within public sectors in Russia are notorious. As a result of rampant ignorance of law in Russia, there are no consequences for improper business practices, cheating students, parents, universities, and the general public. Complete lack of oversight from local enforcement agencies and unresponsiveness of Russian authorities encourage new and even more deceptive behavior. Capitalizing on such anarchy, swt recruiting agents in Russia have been and continue to cheat swt applicants and pretty much everyone else. All in the pursuit of maximizing profits. It is therefore no surprise that the US embassy in Moscow characterized Russian law system as follows: “…the endless layers of bureaucracy, corruption, and apathy lead to limited success in responding to criminal acts. Transparency International has rated the perceived level of corruption in Russia as having risen steadily over the past eight years, and have noted the judicial system as a particular concern” [22].  In 2011, during swt program review, the State labeled Russia as a country “with a higher prevalence of problems” [33] and said that Russian participants “face greater risks when participating in the program” [40]. Similarly, US law enforcement referred to Russia as a country with “known sources of criminal activities” [19]. No wonder, since the US embassy-accredited Russian swt agents are known for “pioneering” fraudulent employment contracts, forging visa documents, sending Russian prostitutes in the US, etc. Because of these and other multiple serious violations, the State put Russia into the Pilot program, albeit with little benefit.

Russian agents are quite candid about their plans for the 2021 season. They say when Trump is removed from office, the proclamation will be cancelled. Why are they so confident about the outcome of elections?

  • US Employers profit significantly from J-1 programs, they save tons of money by hiring cheap and easily exploitable foreign labor (swt participants, interns, camp counselors, etc.). Because there are thousands of different American businesses, no single employer has broad records of many J-1 participants.

Let’s try to summarize

How big is the potential impact of J-1 overseas voter fraud? It is big. Over million of foreign students participated in the swt program in the last ten years. The number of total J-1 issued visas and associated SSNs is much higher. If even a small share of those millions of foreigners fraudulently vote it can tilt elections. Indeed, the overview above shows that non-citizens’ votes can impact the outcome of close races.

Who would benefit from the voter scam? SWT and J-1 beneficiaries would. Trump is an existential threat to $100 million SWT industry and other highly profitable J-1 programs. Trump has threatened to cancel SWT and other J-1 programs in 2017 and recently in June 2020. Russian swt recruiting agent stated “There is such a battle going on that the opposite side is ready for any sacrifice, just to prevent him from being re-elected”. Sponsors have been extremely active in their efforts to protect J-1 status quo.  In 2017, in response to Trump’s intention to eliminate the swt program, sponsors spearheaded a nationwide campaign. In 2020 sponsors sued Trump administration to overthrow the executive order meant to protect American jobs.

Who else would benefit? Joe Biden. Because of Trump’s tough stance on immigration and non-immigrant programs, foreign non-citizen voters favor Democrats and, if voted, would provide additional (illegal) support for Joe Biden.

Based on the above overview, it appears that Russian swt agents have passed a list of Russian swt participants to voter fraudsters. Unscrupulous agents have means and motives – they have participants’ information and clear motivation – to get rid of Donald Trump.

You make a final call.

Published October 16, 2020. Updated October 25, 2020.
Got questions? Contact us by email.
We are not native English speakers so please be gracious. For endnotes refer to the full swt report.

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