The US has promised to protect the interests of hundreds of Indian students at the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA), which was raided yesterday by investigating and law enforcement agencies on charges of visa fraud. In a day-long exercise, dozens of officials from different federal agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), entered the Annandale campus of the university and took away with them a large number of boxes full of documents and computer hard drives from its administrative division.
"Today, officials from ICE's Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP) served UNVA with a notice of intent to withdraw (NOIW) UNVA's authorisation to admit foreign students," ICE spokeswoman Cori W Bassett in a statement.
Based in Annandale, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, the university is reported to have 2,400 students of which 90 per cent are from India. Of these, an overwhelming majority are said to be from Andhra Pradesh. The university declined to make any comment; it did not communicate with its students and staff either, except for a notice posted at the entrance that said the university was still open, but students had the choice to move to other varsities or look for other options, if they so wanted. Sources said the UNVA was authorised to issue I-20 form to about 50 students, but had issued and enrolled a much larger number.
Based on the experience of the Tri-Valley case, and given that India had strongly objected to the manner in which its students were treated, US authorities have informed their Indian counterparts that they would handle this case and follow-up action in a different manner.
In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, "We have impressed upon the US 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. The Ministry and our Mission in Washington are closely following the developments and are in the process of obtaining all details in the matter."
MEA spokesperson Vishnu Prakash, added, "It is further understood that there will not be a mass termination of UNVA students SEVIS records. The US authorities are taking steps to provide necessary information to help the students transfer to other educational institutions in the US or go back to their home countries."
ICE has issued a notice that said, "UNVA students must immediately depart the country if they are unable to continue to attend classes and maintain their active status in a manner required by the regulation or if they are unable or do not wish to seek transfer to another SEVP-certified institution."
US immigration Officials also made it clear that there would be no arrests, detention or electronic monitoring of students. They also said that the university would not be immediately shut down; it had been given a months' notice to explain. The students have three options: continue at the University while it functions, seek transfer to another university or seek voluntary return to India.
There was some cheer for the students - their visa status would not be terminated. It would remain valid for the present duration during which time they would have the opportunity to seek transfers.
But concerns remain in Andhra Pradesh. Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu expressed concern over the predicament faced by students from the state and said, ''It is unfortunate that from Andhra so many students are going abroad all over the world for higher education. But unfortunately the government is not protecting their interest."
(with PTI inputs)