The fate of a large number of Indian students from Andhra Pradesh continued to hang in the balance here in the United States, as many of them have been caught up in the case of alleged immigration fraud of by Tri-Valley University in the Bay Area near San Fracisco, California.

Immigration authorities’ suspicions about the legitimacy of TVU were initially aroused when they noticed that two out of three other schools that TVU claimed had accepted the credits of TVU graduates denied ever doing so.

When they launched a sting operation against Susan Xiao-Ping Su, the head of TVU, with undercover officers posing as foreign students, she was willing to offer them F-1, or student visas, even though they admitted they had no intention to attend courses and had improper status from previous schools.

However because Su was a Designated School Official for a university, she was considered an agent of the government and considered to be acting on behalf of the government, according to immigration attorney, Sheela Murthy. Thus, she had little trouble entering the government database and issuing I-20 visas to the “students.”

Then the trap was closed, and what might well become one of the largest immigration frauds to ever hit the U.S. university system emerged into the light. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities are said to have already issued a notice of forfeiture of properties of Su, alleging immigration fraud.

With over 95 per cent of the students involved said to be of Indian origin, today it is evident that several hundred, or possibly over a thousand, students enrolled in TVU are likely to be facing deportation, or “removal” as it is more commonly known in U.S. legal parlance.

Attorney Murthy, who heads immigration specialist-firm The Law Office of Sheela Murthy, however had some advice for affected students, many of whom have been frantically calling her office for advice since receiving a Notice to Appear (NTA).

Outlining several scenarios, she said to The Hindu that the worst case situation would in fact be the receipt of an NTA. In that case though, she warned, no student should ever consider leaving the U.S., because “once you leave after an NTA 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.”

In the first scenario, Ms. Murthy recommends instead that the students requests voluntary departure either through an assigned or appointed lawyer or directly to a judge in a court. She added that the five-year ban would not apply if the judge granted voluntary departure, and that outcome also may be quite likely given that the cost of deporting someone could be anything between $20,000 -- $50,000.

Further, voluntary departure would allow time to dispose of assets such as a house or car and it would be possible for the student in question to return to the U.S. again and pursue further studies at a different university and under and newly-issued F-1 visa, Ms. Murthy added.

However it would appear to not all be bad news for the students of TVU – Ms. Murthy’s office has also encountered better-case scenarios amongst those from that group who have been talking to her office. She said, for example that in some cases the authorities had not issued a deportation notice but simply asked the students to buy their own airline ticket and leave the country.

In this case they could simply comply, as even the authorities had informed the students that “If they get a new I-20 from another school they could get back in touch and attempt to re-enter the country but at present they would not be willing to allow the students to stay here,” Ms. Murthy said.

Yet there is a better case still – for some students, immigration authorities had only asked that they seek admission at another school and assured that they would in turn redirect their immigration status as required for them to continue their studies at the new school.

A final option that could possibly apply to a few cases would be for the student to “get an employer to file an H1-B visa... or change over to a spouse-dependent visa where a spouse has a valid visa in the U.S.,” Ms. Murthy advised.

Stepping back to the larger picture, it would appear that the Indian embassy has yet to get involved in the dialogue. Yet that might actually help resolve some of the more issues, Ms. Murthy said, especially as there were plans underway to launch an open letter petition containing hundreds of student signatures.

Ms. Murthy’s office is hoping that such a letter, sent to the offices of the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and to the Director of ICE, might persuade them to exercise “favourable discretion,” the latitude that they have to adopt a more an attitude of kindness, lenience or generosity in deciding on the fate of the Indian students.

“Such an attitude could permeate to the lower levels of immigration enforcement officers, who will generally follow instructions from their higher-ups,” Ms. Murthy noted.