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US-bound Indian students beware

US Congress audit arm warned in June about scams like Herguan, said American regulatory structure weak. Charu Sudan Kasturi reports.

delhi Updated: Aug 09, 2012 01:50 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi
Charu Sudan Kasturi
Hindustan Times

Indian students may need to rely on their own investigation to avoid joining fraudulent US universities that are able to lure them because of a weak regulatory structure recently slammed by the audit arm of the US Congress.

Over 450 Indian students face the threat of deportation after the CEO of their institution, Herguan University in Sunnyvale, California, was arrested by federal authorities for visa fraud. These students must leave the US this week unless they transfer to a legal university, the department of homeland security has said in a statement.

But in a report to Congress in June, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the equivalent of India’s Comptroller and Auditor General – had blamed American immigration authorities for their failure to stop fraud universities from attracting foreign students.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “implemented existing controls, in accordance with internal control standards and fraud prevention practices, to verify schools’ legitimacy and eligibility” either while applying to be allowed to admit foreign students, or once they actually start admitting these students, the GAO report said.

The report highlights how the ICE also does not maintain records to document compliance of schools allowed to admit foreign students. The GAO found the ICE’s records incomplete in the case of over 60% schools.

To avoid getting scammed

· Try and pick an accredited school.
· If looking at an unaccredited school, search out students who have been there online, if not physically.
· Look to see reviews of the school.
· Seek details -- from the varsity -- of accredited schools certifying it.
· Verify with the accredited schools whether they have actually certified the unaccredited school.

Source: GAO report: Student and Exchange Visitor Program

The US remains the most-preferred foreign destination for Indian students, and boasts many of the world's top universities where students have few complaints. Over 100,000 Indian students joined US universities in 2011.

But the GAO report details how other sub-standard schools are mushrooming, exploiting the inability of US immigration officials to verify credentials of all universities admitting foreign students.

The report also highlights what students must watch out for.

Accredited universities are mostly safe, though they need to apply to the ICE to be allowed to admit foreign students. An unaccredited university needs letters from accredited schools certifying that they recognize the academic credits offered by the unaccredited varsity, for immigration officials to award foreign students visas.

But California’s Tri Valley University was last January closed down for faking letters from accredited universities. Over 1000 Indian students had to return home.

A year later, Herguan faces the stick -- after exploiting the same, unplugged, loopholes.

First Published: Aug 08, 2012 21:15 IST