The Indian student community has been rocked by the closing of Tri-Valley University in California, leaving over 1500 students without legal immigration status. As Immigration officials focus their investigations on those holding student visas, this situation will surely be repeated in the future. I write this post to offer some guidance on how to avoid getting caught up in an F-1 student scam.
Tri-Valley had an unbeatable offer: students could get student visa status and a work permit, and not have to attend classes, in exchange for a reasonable tuition payment. Tri-Valley claimed that students would be in lawful status as long as they attended on-line classes. If this sounds too good to be true, it is because it wasn’t true. Tri-Valley was an elaborate scam that netted the school millions of dollars, but left the students with uncertain futures in the U.S.
So how can you avoid getting fooled by another Tri-Valley? Learn a couple of simple rules:
- Under student visa rules, on-line education can only account for three credit hours (one class) per semester. A full course-load for undergraduates is 12 credit hours; for graduate students, it is 9 hours. So if a school is offering exclusively on-line education, that cannot support a legal F-1 student visa.
- Work permits also cannot be freely handed out. A school can authorize a work permit so that a student can do an internship or practical training in his or her course of study during school holidays and during the school year. This so-called CPT (Curricular Practical Training) is not meant to be an open work permit allowing a student to do any kind of work. A CPT work permit should not substitute for classroom work.
Just as Immigration is clamping down on fraud in the H-1B and L-1 visas situations, in the near future they will be investigating F-1 visa holders more closely. If you have any concerns about the legality of your student visa, consult an attorney. Your future is too valuable to be put at risk by unscrupulous U.S. educational institutions.
If you are a former Tri-Valley student, don’t give up hope. Immigration has said it will consider each student’s situation on a case-by-case situation. It will punish those who knew the school was a fraud and used it solely to get a work permit and stay in the U.S. But it will help those who honestly attended their on-line classes and believed they were entitled to the CPT work permit. To help document your case, I would recommend that you maintain all the work you did for your classes, so that you can demonstrate your good faith effort to be a student.