Photo: Reds Raid UNVA
U.S. immigration officials July 29 raided the University of Northern Virginia, which bills itself as the most popular American college for Indian students, for allegedly failing to comply with federal regulations for administering foreign student visas.
Officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Student and Exchange Visitor Program served UNVA officials in Annandale, Va., with a notice of intent to withdraw the college’s ability to accept foreign students. The college now has 30 days to respond to the ICE notice. Almost 90 percent of UNVA’s students are from Andhra Pradesh.
ICE has set up a Website for UNVA students, informing them that they may continue to attend classes at UNVA if they attend school full-time and do not work. UNVA students also have the option of transferring to another university approved by ICE, or leaving the country.
Cori Bassett, a spokeswoman for ICE, told India-West that UNVA can continue to operate and is still certified by ICE.
“Nonimmigrant students are able to continue attendance at the school until a determination is made as to whether or not UNVA’s certification will be withdrawn,” said Bassett.
“Until such a determination is made, UNVA nonimmigrant students can continue to attend class and complete the requirements for their course of study,” she said.
But as the ICE investigation continues, UNVA students’ records may be terminated on a case-by-case basis, added Bassett.
If a student’s record is terminated, his visa status—and ability to remain in the United States—would be in jeopardy.
Asked if other universities were on ICE’s radar for future raids – including International Technological University and Harguan University - Bassett said that ICE does not discuss future law enforcement actions.
ITU and Harguan – both based in the Silicon Valley and with a majority of students from India – have been cited in several online forums as degree mills who enroll foreign students, then place them in coursework known as curriculum practical training, which allows them to work in the United States.
According to reports in various Indian media, immigration officials have assured the Indian government that UNVA students will not be detained or monitored with ankle bracelets, as was the case with Tri Valley University (TVU)in Pleasanton, Calif., which was raided in January.
Several TVU students – who were mostly from Andhra Pradesh – were taken into custody following the January raids and held in detention or fitted with ankle monitors, which restricted movement to within 50 miles of the school. TVU has since shuttered its doors.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement July 29, which said, “We have impressed upon U.S. authorities the need to ensure that the students are not victimized in any manner, since they all have valid documents.”
“We have been told that the focus of investigations is not on the students but on UNVA itself,” said the MEA statement.
UNVA maintains that it is officially accredited, and therefore, able to enroll foreign students. But Kalpana Peddibhotla, an attorney who is working with many former TVU students, told India-West that UNVA was not recognized by any accrediting organization certified by the Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in March that UNVA had been accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which is federally recognized, but lost that status in 2008 for unknown reasons.
UNVA now claims accreditation from the American University Accreditation Council, which is not recognized by the Department of Education. The address of the accreditor actually belongs to an auto-body repair shop owned by UNVA chairman Gary Zhu, reported the Chronicle of Higher Education.
If a student is working without proper authorization or not maintaining a full course load, he runs the risk of deportation, noted Peddibhotla, advising students to err on the conservative side.
The North American South Asian Bar Association is expected to release within the week FAQs for UNVA students.
UNVA officials did not respond to calls for comment. But in a statement on the school’s Website, Chancellor David Lee wrote, “We at UNVA were very surprised at the events that occurred yesterday. The university has a history of compliance with both federal and state authorities since it opened its doors in 1998. We plan to continue our history of compliance and we are in full cooperation with all authorities involved.”
Lee said all classes at UNVA would continue as scheduled, and emphasized that foreign students who fail to attend classes would jeopardize their stay in the United States.
Computer hardware, equipment and paper documents have been seized by government officials, said Lee.