The Farmington University ‘scandal’ has thrown up a fundamental question on the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) facility and its misuse by fake universities to attract students.
The CPT is popular among international students as it gives them authorisation to work and get paid while gaining experience in the field related to their course. Generally, they are allowed to work for about 20 hours per week full-time or less than that as part-time. Most students use this to earn and compensate for their living expenses.
Officially, many colleges and universities offer such provision to US students and it is paid with funds given by the federal government. International students, however, mostly work outside the campus. Some courses, where practical training is a must offer this facility, from the first year itself.
However, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is another programme that allows international students to work with their student visa intact but it has to be related to their area of study. This is generally for 12 months but students pursuing STEM courses — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — can apply for a 24-month extension of their OPT employment.
In the Farmington issue, both the OPT and CPT were connected. Students who were lured to this fake university were promised CPT from day one by the authorities and that’s why they joined the second master’s to work from the places they were living without attending classes. Students opted for it to extend their OPT with a view that their H-1B would be picked up in due course that would enable them to work legally anywhere in the USA.
Farmington not alone
Education providers and students in the USA reveal that Farmington is not the lone university where the misuse of student visa is going on quite openly. Majority of students who enrol in such institutions do it consciously and are aware of the risks involved, says Narsi Gayam, who trains students going abroad. He feels nearly 20,000 students in sham institutions are at risk if the authorities take up the issue seriously.
A student, seeking anonymity, revealed that a Telugu-origin person is operating such sham varsities in Kentucky and from his Hyderabad office, students are lured with CPT option from day one, and apparently nearly 20,000 students are pursuing courses in those universities. “They are enticed with CPT from day one and they attend classes for only two days in a semester. Several students working in different places in the US are enrolled there,” he says.
Ticking time bomb
Similar varsities are operating in some other states as well and if US authorities launch an investigation, thousands of such students may face deportation or severe consequences legally there itself, say representatives of various Telugu associations that have been helping out the affected students legally, financially and morally.
Mr. Gayam says CPT can be given only after two semesters of full time study but some universities offer it from day 1, which is the root of all trouble. Moreover, the total CPT period cannot exceed 12 months but many students continue to work throughout the duration of enrolment at the universities.
He says some institutions are interpreting that attending classes for one weekend in a semester can be considered as full time study. But if the US federal agencies interpret it differently and construe it as violation of student visas, such students would get into trouble, he warns.