Up to 300 students, a majority of them Indian, are likely to be sent home after United States immigration authorities spent more than nine months investigating the Tri-Valley University (TVU) visa fraud case.
Following a meeting held on Friday between Indian officials and their U.S. counterparts at the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Indian Embassy said that more than a thousand students were being considered for transfer to other universities.
Of these 435 transfers have already been approved, 145 have been denied and “about an equal number” were issued with Notices of Intention to Deny. NOIDs had been issued to the students based on a preliminary examination of the documentation and other circumstances pertaining to the individual students’ cases, sources told The Hindu.
The idea of issuing a NOID was to give students some time to respond as required. U.S. officials have advised that students who have received NOIDs should “reply to the notices in the stipulated time with required and additional information or documents.”
This would put the total number of students likely to be told that they had to leave the U.S. in the vicinity of 300. The remaining transfer application cases, another 300 or more in number, were said to still be under examination.
In terms of the progress of the investigation since then, U.S. officials said that the cases of students that have been examined were considered individually “after evaluating all the information provided by the students.” However no timeframe has been provided for wrapping all the cases, although 600-odd cases were said to have been covered in the last six months.
Sources said that students who were denied visa and returned to India would not face any restrictions against reapplying for another student, or I-20, visa, adding that in the case of those who re-applied their application would be considered afresh without prejudice to their earlier denial of transfer visa from TVU.
However it is not yet clear whether any formal or written assurances to this effect will be given to the students. This may be a concern because there are some legal circumstances under which students returning to India and reapplying for an I-visa may face a risk of denial based on their past association with the TVU case. The Notice to Appear is a case in point.
“Once you leave [the U.S.] after an Notice to Appear is issued, you are automatically considered to be self-deported. After self-deportation you are subject to a minimum five-year ban from re-entering the U.S,” as immigration specialist Attorney Sheela Murthy said at the time to The Hindu. While an NTA is different from a NOID, a written assurance to students may assuage concerns regarding possible debarment from re-entry under a NOID too.
Sources also noted that the process with regard to NOIDs would be that after receipt of the notice the student in question would be required to respond to notice, following which they would get a further intimation as to whether their case has been considered or denied. If denied, the source said, students would have recourse within the framework of U.S. law, possibly entailing the pursuit of justice in a court of law.
The case of TVU near the San Francisco area in California came to light in January this year when a sting operation led by ICE closed in on a major visa fraud network run by Susan Xiao-Ping Su (41), then the head of the University.
At the time ICE issued a notice of forfeiture of properties of Su. However with over 95 per cent of the students involved said to be of Indian origin, and a majority from Andhra Pradesh, it was evident that many hundreds of them might be left in legal limbo, facing the prospect of being “removed” and, before that, the humiliation of wearing a radio tag for monitoring.
In May, Su was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of visa fraud and money laundering.
After last week’s meeting sources also said most of the earlier cases of radio tags had already been cleared and the last six months had seen no new instances of radio tagging. So it was quite likely that there are very few tags on students at this time, if any.
Reflecting on the room for discretion available to U.S. immigration authorities in adjudicating on individual cases, the Indian embassy said that at the meeting on Friday it had sought to impress upon U.S. officials that “the Indian students of TVU have undergone hardship since the closure of the University and that their cases should be viewed with understanding.” In a statement the embassy added that it was continuing its efforts with U.S. authorities aimed at addressing the plight of TVU students.