US has assured to protect the interests of hundreds of Indian students at the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA), which was raided by investigating and law enforcement agencies on suspected charges of alleged visa fraud.
In a day-long exercise, which was continuing late in the evening, dozens of officials, from different federal agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and 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 believed to have 2,400 students of which 90% are from India, of which an overwhelming majority are said to be from Andhra Pradesh.
The university declined to make any comment, neither did it communicate with its students and staff, except for posting a notice on its entrance informing that the university is still open, but students have the choice to move to other varsities or look for other options if they want.
Informed sources said UNVA was authorised to issue I-20 form to about 50 students, but had issued and enrolled a much larger number.
However, 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 are believed to have informed their Indian counterparts that they would be handling the present investigation and follow up action somewhat differently.
Unlike Tri Valley University, the focus of investigations is not on students but on the schools itself. No arrest, detention or electronic monitoring would be done on students, officials said.
Further, the university would not be immediately shut down. The university has been given a months' notice for explanation.
The present students would have one of the three options: continue at the University while it functions, seek transfer to another university and seek voluntary return to India.
In another major relief, visa status of the students would not be terminated, they would remain valid for their present duration, which would also provide time for seeking transfers while continuing in a valid visa status.
In another notice, ICE has informed the UNVA students that they have two choices – continue to attend classes and maintain their active status, seek transfer to another SEVP-approved institution.
"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," it said.