International Students

According to a recent report from the Institute of International Education, 2019 was the fourth straight year where more than one million international students studied at U.S. academic institutions. The total of 1,095,299 represented approximately 5.5% of the total number of students enrolled at colleges and universities across the country. Data from the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that these foreign students generated more than $44 billion to the overall economy.

Recent data shows that a concerning number of international students have faced allegations related to academic dishonesty. A report from the University of Windsor suggests that international students tend to violate the rules of academic integrity at a rate that is three times higher compared to domestic students. The Office of Student Conduct at the University of Southern California (USC) released estimates showing that international students were the subject of 47% of all such academic violations despite composing only 10% of the total student enrollment.

The South China Morning Post believes that dishonesty among international students from China often begins before enrollment. They estimated that 90% of the letters of recommendation provided by Chinese student applicants are forged and approximately 50% of the records and transcripts contain falsified information. In U.S. schools, students accused of cheating, plagiarism, or other misconduct are subject to a disciplinary investigation process, which may leave foreign students feeling very uncertain and confused. International students that are faced with these types of allegations are encouraged to promptly speak with an attorney regarding possible advisory representation.

Countries of Origin for International Students

China has been the country that represents the largest source of international students in the U.S., as roughly 369,000 Chinese students were attending schools as undergraduates, graduate students, or for training programs in 2019. The second-largest source of foreign students is India, with just more than 200,000 students, and South Korea was third at approximately 52,000. Other countries that are highly represented include Bangladesh, Brazil, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Types of Academic Misconduct


Plagiarism is an act of academic misconduct that may be committed with or without intent or resulting from negligence. It may involve submitting work that contains information directly copied from a source without making any references or quotations. It could be committed by compiling information from two sources, while only citing one of them. It may be considered a form of fraud that involves improper usage of ideas, images, or recordings as if they were original.


Cheating involves some form of deception that is intended to influence a student's performance. These acts form a belief that the student possesses greater knowledge as a means of enhancing their standing. A student may cheat by having unauthorized access to materials that allow them to discretely access information during an exam. A violation may also happen when a student submits the same work (or similar) for credit in multiple courses or attempts to copy answers from another student that is taking the same exam.

Collusion or Collaborative Cheating

Collaborative cheating (or collusion) refers to acts of academic dishonesty involving two or more students. These violations tend to happen among students in classwork groups that are intended to create papers or assignments. For example, a group of three students is expected to produce a report; however, only one student completes the assignment alone.

Working group assignments in higher education are often intended to improve skills in teamwork, communications, and other ways of working together to achieve goals. Students may also collude by aiding or abetting one another. Examples might include improper communications during an exam, uniting to share exam questions, or when one student completes an assignment on behalf of another. Less frequently, collaborative cheating may involve a student financially compensating another to create a paper for them or coordinate to have another student take their exam.

Falsification or Fabrication

Another form of academic dishonesty involves the falsification or improper alteration of documents. A student may also alter data or findings to affirm their assertions or conclusions. It may be committed by attempting to alter documents for their benefits such as grades or academic records.

It could be committed by altering an already graded exam and then attempting to resubmit it. A violation could also result from forging the signature of an instructor, professor, or another university representative on a letter of recommendation.

Addressing Academic Misconduct During New International Student Orientation

Many college and university administrators at schools with a substantial number of foreign students have placed greater emphasis on addressing academic misconduct during new student orientation. For example, at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the Office of Student Conduct together with the International Student and Scholar Services have established a program of enhanced education on the subject. The University of Pittsburgh has taken action to create documents related to topics such as plagiarism in Arabic, French, Chinese, etc.   Many schools have class instructors review what constitutes a violation with their classes and others have developed videos and other resources for current students.

Many educators have stressed that international students should proactively gain a realistic understanding of the institutional provisions regarding academic misconduct. When interpretation is difficult with the school's written code or handbook, the student is encouraged to speak with an academic adviser.

Cultural Interpretations and Confusion Regarding Plagiarism

Many educators believe that cultural differences exist regarding plagiarism in other countries. For example, many Asian cultures “encourage collectivism, memorization, and group work” that are different from U.S. standards. Some researchers have suggested that the Western approach to unauthorized usage of someone else's work differs from many other countries. Schools have been working to differentiate and more thoroughly explain how this type of misconduct is defined in the U.S.

Cultural Differences in Interaction Between Student and Instructor

Another potential reason why foreign students may be more likely to engage in academic misconduct could stem from embedded norms related to the relationship between the student and the instructor. In some countries, the student's respect for and obedience to figures of authority is demonstrated by not making eye contact or asking questions; therefore, these students may hesitate to ask their U.S. instructor for further explanations or clarifications. The belief is that the student leaves the classroom without properly grasping the material and is inclined to acts of academic dishonesty.

Difficulties for Foreign Students Transitioning to the U.S. Writing Style

It is understandable for those learning a second language to experience challenges with writing in the new language. Some individuals from foreign countries find the formal writing style in the U.S. to be very inflexible and quite challenging. International students who are experiencing difficulties may find themselves “cutting and pasting” material from a source. Here, the belief is not that the student lacks understanding regarding the topic, rather that they struggle to interpret how to properly express themselves using this writing style. 

Stress and Pressure-Related Factors

Many researchers feel that international students often struggle from a combination of factors when transitioning to life in the U.S. They are often studying advanced coursework while working and are also adjusting to a new language and culture. Many foreign students also feel pressure to perform at a very high level from their family and others in their home country.

In many Asian countries, the educational approach is significantly more collective and group-oriented. These students may be more likely to engage in collaborative cheating or collusion to assist a fellow student, even if doing so could be construed to be academically dishonest. For example, a student from a more “collectivist” educational culture may be more likely to provide some assistance to another student during an examination without realizing the potential repercussions.

Disciplinary Process

When allegations of academic misconduct are received, they are handled according to the institution's specific written provisions. Many schools do allow for informal resolution; however, these are appropriate only for very minor infractions that will not result in serious penalties.  Students are generally permitted to choose an advisor for support and assistance. A seasoned student disciplinary attorney should be retained for this purpose.

The investigation is typically focused on gathering any related evidence. The parties involved are often summoned to a hearing where the student will answer the allegations and evidence is presented. Many schools designate a group of faculty members, administrators, and/or students to form a panel that is tasked with evaluating the evidence and reaching a decision. The institution's guidelines generally emphasize that the panel members are impartial and have no direct interests or association with the accused.

Your legal representation is likely to be very helpful in preparation. You will be better prepared to confidently respond to questions and effectively make statements. He or she may consider engaging in discussions with members of the disciplinary administration regarding a mutually beneficial resolution that would assist you.

Most institutional disciplinary provisions allow a student to appeal an adverse ruling; however, written intent is generally required in a very short time-frame. The grounds for appeal are also specific and limited. Having assistance from a knowledgeable attorney that is familiar in this area of practice is important.

Potential Sanctions or Penalties

If the allegations made are proven, the student is likely to face sanctions that may include probation, suspension, or expulsion. Periods of probation may be imposed where the student must adhere to all rules and conditions. During this period, any subsequent violations are likely to result in a mandatory suspension or dismissal from the institution. If a student is suspended, they are separated from the institution for some defined period with an option to return.

If a disciplinary ruling is made during an academic term and the student is suspended, they can expect to lose credit for current coursework and forfeit any tuition, fees, and housing expenses that have been paid. Suspended students are also typically ineligible for athletic participation, membership in student organizations, or other benefits afforded to current students. If a student is dismissed (expulsion) from the school, they are deemed as ineligible to return and should expect to lose any scholarship opportunities.

Collateral or Other Longer-Term Ramifications

If an international student was provided a scholarship or a visa specific to education, it will generally be revoked. International students are often in the U.S. via F-1 or J-1 status. If a student is no longer registered full-time at a college or university, they will be ineligible for their legal status for immigration and must leave the country. Gaining admittance to a different institution is possible; however, this can be challenging due to the evidence of misconduct that will be contained in their record and transcripts.

International students that are placed on a form of academic probation must also closely review the conditions. For example, students on academic probation may have to satisfy a minimum grade-point average. Failing to do so could trigger a mandatory suspension or other action that could also impede the ability to maintain status as a full-time student.

When the sanctions are suspension or expulsion, the student's record or transcript will contain evidence that documents the adverse action. This will often hinder the student's ability to be admitted to another school, graduate programs, and other worthwhile opportunities.

Why Retain a Seasoned Student Misconduct Lawyer?

Allegations of academic misconduct against an international student will lead to devastating ramifications that can shatter your goals and create considerable financial problems. The majority of institutions in higher education today are operating in a high-pressure and competitive market and are often facing substantial budgetary constraints. Overworked administrators responsible for disciplinary matters may move hastily without properly considering all procedural protections. An attorney-adviser that is familiar with these actions can protect your best interests and future.

Lawyer Provides Advisory Representation for International Students Accused of Academic Misconduct

Are you the subject of allegations of violating the rules regarding academic misconduct? This may create a very difficult set of circumstances, particularly for foreign students. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced student academic misconduct attorney that is well-versed in this realm and will work to ensure you are treated fairly. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686 for more information.

Contact Us Today!


If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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