India on Tuesday said it has obtained consular access and was providing legal assistance to 117 of the 129 Indian students detained in the US for allegedly enrolling in a fake university. The Indian government has closely monitored and taken proactive measures to deal with the detention of Indian students in the US, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
According to US government statistics, 129 Indians were administratively arrested on 31 January in connection with their enrolment at a fake university set up by the Department of Homeland Security as part of an operation.
"As on date, our embassy and consulates have obtained consular access to 117 of them, by pro-actively visiting 36 different detention sites through the length and breadth of the country," the MEA said, adding that efforts to get consular access to the remaining 12 are on.
The Indian embassy has also set up a 24x7 helpline for students.
The MEA further said they were assisting the Indian students in obtaining legal advice and connecting them with community support services. "We remain in touch with US authorities, both at the federal and local level, to ensure and satisfy ourselves about the humane and dignified treatment of the Indian students and custom-sensitive dietary and living arrangement for them during the period of their detention," the statement said.
The ministry's statement came after the US state department said all 130 foreign students detained in the US for enrolling in the fake university, were aware that they were committing a crime to fraudulently remain in the country.
"All participants in this scheme knew that University of Farmington had no instructors or classes (neither online nor in-person) and were aware they were committing a crime in an attempt to fraudulently remain in the United States," a state department spokesperson had said on Monday.
The department's response came after India issued a demarche to the American embassy in New Delhi on Saturday, expressing concern over the detention of Indian students and seeking immediate consular access to them.
The US Department of Homeland Security had arrested the foreign students last week for enrolling at University of Farmington allegedly to remain in America. An investigating unit of homeland security had set up the fake university in the Greater Detroit area to bust the "pay-and-stay" racket.
The fake university, which had no classes, a low tuition fee and gave work permits on the very first day of enrolment, had some 600 students, an overwhelming majority of whom are Indians. The actual number of those detained is much higher. Some of the students were released from detention, and many of those who escaped detention have left the country.
Eight individuals — either Indian citizens or Indian-Americans — have been arrested for running the racket. They have pleaded "not guilty" before a federal court in Michigan. One of them, Phanideep Karnati, a 35-year-old who is on an H-1B visa and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, was released on a bond of $10,000 on Monday.
The seven others — Barath Kakireddy, Suresh Kandala, Prem Rampeesa, Santosh Sama, Avinash Thakkallapally, Aswanth Nune, and Naveen Prathipati — consented to their continued detention before a judge in the Eastern District of Michigan, where they were produced along with Karnati.
Immigration attorneys have criticised authorities for using "troubling" methods to trap the students. They said the students were not aware of the varsity's illegitimate operation. Eminent Indian-Americans and some media outlets have also questioned the modus operandi of the US government in busting the racket, saying "trapping of innocent students" is a "crime".
In the first reaction, days after the story broke out, the state department had described it an unfortunate aberration in the proud history of India-US educational exchanges. "More than a million international students' study at US institutes each year, including approximately 1,96,000 Indian students last year. Instances of fraud schemes are rare, unfortunate aberrations in the proud history of the educational exchange between the US and India," it said.
The US government fully supports international education and is committed to facilitating legitimate student travel, the state department said in an apparent reference to the panic that the latest US move has created and reports from India that students are now considering the option of studying in other countries and not the US.
"International students are a valuable asset to our universities and our economy and enrich our communities by sharing their diverse perspectives, skills, and experiences," it said, acknowledging that Indian students not only bring in about $6 billion per annum but also become instrumental in the creation of thousands of jobs in the US.
"It is unfortunate that some student recruiters and individuals seek to use the international student programme to foster illegal immigration status in the US," it said.
The North America Telugu Association said: "It is very unfortunate that several students are affected by this university and the majority are Telugu students. Most of these students had joined to get their work permits without knowing that this college is not accredited and became victims of this. Their dreams are shattered now."
It advised other students to not fall into the trap and instead work hard and get Optional Practical Training and Curricular Practical Training from reputed universities as per the normal guidelines.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Feb 06, 2019 13:31:57 IST