February 16, 2011

TVU issue: US assures Rao of ‘fair solution’

Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington


The Obama administration has promised a “fair solution” in the case of Indian students who were enrolled at a sham university in California, according to Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao.

Indian officials have urged their US counterparts to find a solution that does not harm the students’ future and allows them to transfer to genuine universities in America.

“Our emphasis has been on seeking a solution that will help the students who have been affected by this unfortunate development and enable them to find alternative placements in bona fide universities without affecting their future,” Rao told reporters at the end of her two-day visit to Washington on Tuesday.

On January 19, Tri-Valley University became the target of a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) criminal investigation. ICE officials said the TVU was a sham. At least 1,550 students have been affected. Most of them are Indian, and a majority from Andhra Pradesh.

Rao raised the issue at her meeting with Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Bill Burns, on Tuesday. She said the students who have not been involved in illegal activities should be allowed to transfer to other universities “without detriment or without any disadvantage.” Burns assured her that this is an option that the US government is looking at and will provide a “fair solution to this very, very real and critical problem,” she added.

Depending on how long they have been out of status, students have the option to depart the US voluntarily and avoid a five-year entry ban that comes with deportations, get a transfer to other schools or find a job and ask an employer to file an H1-B visa. Students who have approached other universities about transfers have been told that they cannot be accepted as they are illegal immigrants since their visas have been revoked. The option of applying for an H-1B visa is also ruled out because the cap for the year has been filled.In some cases where visa violations have allegedly been discovered, students have been forced to wear electronic monitoring ankle bracelets. Rao described the matter as a “very important subject” and said she had “conveyed our concern about the welfare of the students who have been affected by this unfortunate series of events involving the TVU.”
“I stressed our concern about the large numbers of bona fide students who have been adversely affected by the events surrounding Tri Valley University and the uncovering of this scam... Our concern was that the future of these students should not be affected,” she said.

On February 13, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna raised the matter with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Following that conversation, India’s ambassador in Washington, Meera Shankar, conveyed details of the case to Hillary.

Krishna sought Hillary’s intervention in the matter with a view to ensure that the interests of the students are protected and their future is not jeopardised, the Indian Embassy in Washington said in a readout of the call.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has instructed students to call the Student Exchange Visitors Programme (SEVP) and provide their specific details.

Sunil, a former TVU student who is based in the Washington area and declined to give his last name, told The Tribune on Tuesday that many students have received court notices and face deportation back to India.

Rao’s visit to Washington was intended to lay the ground for a second US-India strategic dialogue, which will be held in New Delhi on April 6. Hillary and Krishna will lead the dialogue.

At her meetings with a host of US officials and lawmakers, Rao discussed United Nations reform, export controls, maritime security and the political upheaval in the Arab world. She noted that President Barack Obama’s support for a permanent seat for India on an expanded U.N. Security Council is more than just lip service.

Rao came away from the meetings convinced that there exists a political will in both New Delhi and in Washington to take the US-India relationship to a higher plane.

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