Studying in the United States offers a wide variety of opportunities to international students, such as cultural exchange, new perspectives on research, and exposure to the US job market. However, in this era of enforcement, international students enrolling in schools with questionable reputations and poorly managed SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) programs face greater risks.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) terminated all SEVIS records for international students at the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA) on November 25, 2013, after the state of Virginia revoked UNVA’s certificate of operation. (SEVIS – the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System – is an Internet-based system where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security maintains information on SEVP-certified schools and students in F, J, and M status.) International students at UNVA were left with few options to avoid falling out of status; some students lost their OPT work authorization, or had to leave the US.
In light of this type enforcement action, students should be wary of attending schools with questionable reputations, especially if the school offers benefits that are too good to be true. In ICE enforcement actions, the following common violations were permitted by the schools in question:
- Enrollment in more than one online course, in an academic term, that was easily accessible from any geographic location
- Enrollment with a reduced course load, without proper authorization
- Work with Curricular Practical Training authorization, where there was no cooperative agreement between the school and employer
- Receipt of continuous employment authorization
- Engaging in unauthorized employment
Whether or not a school is under investigation, students who engage in the above activities run the risk of being denied OPT, changes of status, nonimmigrant visas, and even future admission to the US. Though rare, students have also been charged with committing fraud and misrepresentation, making them permanently ineligible for future immigration benefits without first applying for a waiver.
If a student violates the terms of his or her status, the student should consult with an attorney. The attorney can help the student explore his or her options moving forward, based on an analysis of the specific facts of the student’s case, and by answering questions such as:
- Did the student violate his or her status?
- Where a status violation occurred, are there any exceptions that might mitigate the violation?
- Where a status violation cannot be mitigated, what options does the student have to move forward?
Ultimately, the best way for students to avoid status violations is to enroll in a reputable academic institution that has been accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. In an era of enforcement, the consequences of enrolling in a disreputable school is simply not worth the risk.
Anna Stepanova, Enjoying the Fruits of One’s Labor: Navigating F-1 Status, VOICE – American Immigration Lawyers Association, July / August 2013.
Tom Bartlett, et al., Little-Known Colleges Exploit Visa Loopholes to Make Millions Off Foreign Students, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mar. 20, 2011, available at http://chronicle.com/article/Little-Known-Colleges-Exploit/126822/.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Student and Exchange Visitor Program, available at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Update for University of Northern Virginia Students, Nov. 27, 2013, available at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/students/unva.htm.