- 110 of the 600 Indian students affected by the University of Farmington sting operation still in US detention cells
- Indian resident associations in the USA fear that more students could be enrolled in similar sham universities
- Most of the detained students hail from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh
As Indians enrolled in the University of Farmington, wait for their fate to be decided in US detention cells, Indian associations fear that there may be more students who could face a similar fate. Read on to find out more about visa fraud in the USA
Following the University of Farmington sting operation that lead to 146 international students being detained by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities, many more Indians currently in the USA fear that they will be detained for alleged immigration fraud.
Most of these students hold a master’s degree. They are enrolled in colleges where they can work on a second master’s degree while simultaneously getting curricular practical training (CPT). This is needed to become eligible for paid internships and employment training programs.
Visa Fraud In The USA By Indian Students – The Farmington Sting?
The University of Farmington was a fake university set up by the ICE in 2015 as part of a sting operation to expose student visa fraud. The operation was code-named ‘Paper Chase’. 600 students were involved in the operation.
The operation was made public on 30th January 2019 when the ICE and Dept. of Homeland Security arrested 8 recruiters of Indian origin in charges of harboring aliens for profit and visa fraud.
These recruiters had allegedly made over $250,000 by recruiting students for the Farmington University. They are being charged with a criminal felony while the students affected are likely to be asked to leave the country and be made to face civil charges.
A total of about 600 students were found to be enrolled in the university. Of these 400 returned to India while about 146 were detained in about 30 detention centers spread across the USA. Of these 140 belonged to the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. 110 of these students are currently in detention cells in the USA.
These students face a choice to voluntary departure or waiting for a trial. Those waiting for a trial have been told that the earliest date would be in March or April. Students choosing to leave voluntarily must buy their own tickets and face a three-year ban from entering the USA.
Those who face deportation will get their tickets from the US government but will be prescribed a 10-year ban. A third option is to stay in the USA and fight the court case. However, this can take 2-4 years and the student will be released on a bail bond of $4,000 to $25,000
This was not the first of such immigration fraud discoveries. In April 2016, 21 individuals were charged with recruiting international students to the fake University of Northern New Jersey.
What Other Students Fear
After the Farmington University sting, the ICE is believed to be planning more sting operations to find other instances of student visa fraud. The authorities suspect that a large number of Indians are working and staying in the USA on the pretext of being enrolled for a full-time course at seemingly legitimate universities.
While there are a number of Indian associations who are trying to help the detained students, there is a fear that many more students could be detained and deported as more such universities come to light.
Of the approximate 200,000 Indian students currently enrolled in the USA for a master’s course, around 25,000 are believed to be enrolled in colleges that offer CPT facilities with a second Master’s degree.
The Indian associations in the USA are trying to caution Indian students about such programs and help students transfer out of these universities before they are charged with immigration violations.
Visa Fraud In The USA – Identifying Sham Universities
Interestingly, the University of Farmington was set up around the same time that a number of other universities in the USA lost their accreditation. Since this university seemed to have all its accreditations in place, most of the students enrolled in the course did not doubt the legitimacy of the university.
However, there are ways to check on a university before enrolling in one. For example, a university in Florida was recently exposed as a sham university when Google maps showed its location in an industrial complex with very little parking space and a building of fewer than 1000 sq. ft.
Why Indians Enroll In Such Universities?
There are many reasons that led to Indian students enrolling themselves in such universities. CPT is required by international students to become eligible for paid internships or training jobs in the USA. This, in turn, is required for the H1B visa lottery.
Since these universities offer CPT from the first day of the semester, it is looked upon as a way of getting the training and finding an inroad to US residency.
Another reason is the dramatic increase in the number of substandard engineering colleges that have opened in India. Graduates of these universities turn to other countries like the USA when they are unable to get a job.
The social prestige associated with studying abroad is another factor. These universities have a significantly lower tuition fee as compared to other universities and hence are more affordable for Indians.
The lure of getting a better matrimonial match and higher paying jobs after a US degree compels Indian students to enroll themselves in such colleges.
However, representatives of the Indian associations helping the detained students agree that the students should have exercised a little more caution and due diligence before getting lured by such programs.
Indian Students In The USA
In 2017-18, students from India accounted for 17.9% of the total international student body in the USA. Most of these students are enrolled in STEM courses. Indian students contribute about 7.5 billion USD to the US economy.
What Is The Indian Government Doing?
The Indian government recently announced that it would extend its support to all the Indian students currently detained as a result of the sting. Appeals have been made to the US Consul General in Hyderabad to rescue these students and not treat them as criminals.
The Andhra Pradesh government has also asked all its US-based resident associations to extend financial and legal aid to the affected students. In addition, they have proposed to give the students IT training once they return to India so that they can get suitable jobs.
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