US `sham` varsity: Indian students seek help

Hundreds of Indian students from Tri-Valley University face the prospect of deportation from the US.

Washington: Duped by an American university, a harassed group of Indian students has met the Consul General in San Francisco seeking help to complete their studies and claimed that they have not violated any law.

A group of 35 students from Tri-Valley University (TVU) yesterday met Consul General Sushmita Gongulee Thomas.

Thomas said she had also sought factual position from the US Government on the status of these students.

"We are seeking factual position (from the US Government) on the status of these students and how these students can be helped in transfer to other colleges, so that they can complete their studies," Sushmita Gongulee Thomas, Consul General of India in San Francisco, told a news agency.

On January 25, Thomas said, she wrote to the Office of Foreign Mission, in San Francisco and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeking detailed information on this case.

She hasn`t received any response from them so far, Thomas said.

Hundreds of Indian students, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, face the prospect of deportation from the US after authorities raided and shut down Tri-Valley University in the Silicon Valley on charges of a massive immigration fraud.

"According to the group that came to the Consulate, a large number of students had not violated any visa or immigration rules and were unaware of the fraudulent nature of the school. Their primary concern is to complete their education for which they feel that they should be allowed to seek admission in other schools," said Ashok Kumar Sinha, Consul (Community Affairs), Indian Consulate San Francisco.

"They are also concerned about reports in the media that indicate that all students of the TVU were part of the scam. Many of the TVU students, specially the more recent ones and some who transferred from other accredited universities, were unaware of the true nature of the university and have suddenly found themselves to be victims," Sinha said.

Sinha said the Consulate is taking up the matter with Investigations by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).

"The Consulate, on behalf of those students who have not violated any immigration rules, is taking up the matter with ICE to find out how these students can be helped so that they can seek admissions in other universities or can go back honourably to India without forfeiting their chance of ever being able to return to the US," he said.

Currently, their SEVIS information has been blocked by DHS without which they cannot seek transfers or admissions to other universities.

"The Consulate is also trying to enlist the support of local immigration attorneys to answer immigration related questions of these students," Sinha said.

According to a federal complaint filed in a California court last week, the University helped foreign nationals illegally acquire immigration status.

The university is said to have 1,555 students. As many as 95 percent of these students are Indian nationals, the complaint said.

Investigations by ICE found that while students were admitted to various residential and on-line courses of the university and on paper lived in California, but in reality
they "illegally" worked in various parts of the country as far as Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

ICE has called it as a "Sham University".

It also found that more than half of these students were reported to be residing in a single apartment located in Sunnyvale California.

During the course of the investigation ICE found that the university gave the residential address of its students in order to conceal that they did not live in California, said the court papers.

For a student to maintain an active immigration status, they must show proof that they are making reasonable process toward completing coursework and physically attend classes.

Unconfirmed reports said that nearly two dozen students have been arrested or detained so far in various parts of the country.

Meanwhile, affected students with assistance of Indian-American community and immigration attorneys have launched a petition campaign seeking help from the Department of Homeland Security.

"We respectfully plead with you not to penalise us or our families and bring shame to our entire family and the village/ towns we come from, by deporting (removing) us from the US and causing us loss of name, reputation, money, resulting in devastation to us and our families and crashing all of our dreams," says the petition, a copy of which has been posted on the website of the Telugu Association of North America (TANA).

TANA president Jayaram Komati said he has been in conversation and has also met local Congress Representatives from California and urged them to help ensure that the effected students be given the chance to enrol in other institutes of higher learning within the US.

The organisation has also approached Murthy law firm and requested them to approach Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) with the intention to save the effected people from potential deportation and/or detention
and argue that they were victims and that they be give the ability to enrol elsewhere.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Web-based technology, SEVIS to track and monitor schools and programmes, students, exchange visitors and their dependents while they are legally enrolled in the US education system.

In their petition, these students said that they have invested a substantial portion of their parents savings to come to the US for studies.

"We thought that we were so fortunate to obtain the F1 visa to enter the US and study here or that we were able to obtain admission and then we could file a change of status to study at this US University," the petition says.

"We relied on the government to do its job and protect us and allow us to complete our education so that we can support ourselves and our families by being able to live in the US for a few years or return to our home countries with a good education and then obtain good jobs in our home countries," the petition says.

"We respectfully request DHS and ICE to favourably consider and provide us with all viable options. For example, we humbly request that ICE provide us an opportunity to continue our education and pursue our lifelong dream to study
in the US by allowing us to study at another University within the US by allowing another University to issue us a new Form I-20 and then for USCIS to approve the F1 status with a new University or College, or allow us to file a change of status
to another status like an H1B or F2 within the US legally if any such options are available to us with an employer or based on a spouse living in the US," it says.