Sumana G wasn’t content being a housewife. But in the eight year after moving to the US after marriage, she couldn’t find anything to do primarily because she was on a dependent visa, prohibited from working.
But no one could stop her from studying — change her visa status as a student and then some day hope to get a job — if she could afford the high tuition fee. For many years she couldn’t. And then she heard of Tri-Valley University from a friend.
It was everything she and her husband had wanted: cheaper than any other university in the US, classes were online so she could stay home; and they were quick to grant visa status and give students permission to work.
It worked for many like Sumana (not her real name; many of the Tri-Valley students interviewed refused to be identified for fear of attracting the attention of the authorities here and let family back home know of their plight).
Intentions are hard to pin in a situation such as this. Tri-Valley was approved by the authorities, and for those enrolled everything came as a part of the deal — everyone knew, everyone approved and everything was above board.
Students came from India, some transfered from other universities and still some others were like Sumana, dependent-visa spouse finding finally their chance to try their luck here.
But it all came crashing down January 19 morning, when the university was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and the students melted away to wait for a knock on their door.
Over 1,500 students finds themselves facing an uncertain future, 95 per cent of them from India. And perhaps all of them from a single state, Andhra Pradesh.
ICE refused to discuss the case. “Due to the ongoing nature of our investigation into Tri-Valley, we are not able to discuss any details related to the case at this time,” said Virginia Rice, an ICE spokesperson.
In a court filing, Tri-Valley University was described as a “sham university ... to facilitate foreign nationals in illegally acquiring student immigration status that authorises them to remain in the United States.” Studies, the charges said, were the last thing on anyone’s mind at TVU.
In a notice to the University — for cancellation of permission granted to it under the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme to enrol foreign students — ICE cited cases of job assignments in unrelated field to make it case.
Every unversity permitted to take in foreign nationals can allow them to work for tempeorary periods in fields strictly related to their course to help in their overall development under a system called Curricular Practical Training.
Most universities allow that after the second or third semester. Tri-Valley was far more generous allowing some students to start working from day one, for a period going up to a year, and in completely unrleated fields.
ICE found one student enrolled in the health care course working at New Jersey 7Eleven, a convenience store. A student of computer science was working at a Virginia Economy Dollar Inc, a low-price store.
There is no way to know for sure how many of these are genuine students wanting to pick up a degree and then look around for jobs and those who used the TVU F-1 visa to find a job straight away.
None of those interviewed said jobs and not studies was there main aim for coming to the US. They insisted, it was about studies and that many of them planned to return home on completion of their course.
“I was enrolled for a course in health management at TVU transferring there from another university,” said a student, adding, “I planned to return to India and work with the Appollo group.”
But there were other students who were working full time — and not part-time as is the norm — from day one of joining the university. One of them was working at a major financial company as a full-timer.
ICE began investigating the university early 2010, and filed charges in January. TVU president Susan Su has called the charges a “sham”, throwing back at ICE a word it used to describe her institution.
No matter what is the outcome of the case against Tri-Valley, the students have no hope or plans of ever returning to the disgraced university. They are ready to move on when the authorities allow them to.