Lawyers representing the students, who had all enrolled in the fake ‘University of Farmington’, say they are being held in ‘pathetic and dangerous’ conditions. 

New Delhi: A majority of the 600 Indian students, facing deportation from the US and the threat of imprisonment for having enrolled into the fictitious ‘University of Farmington’, already had master’s degrees from American colleges and had entered the country legally.

The students, who also face a ban on entering the US for allegedly overstaying their visas, had all enrolled at the fake university in Michigan, which according to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), had been set up to crack down on immigration fraud.

Lawyers representing the students, however, said the Indian students had entered the US on the F1 visa and were working under two programmes — Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

The OPT and CPT are temporary authorisations that allow students under the F1 status to work in their related fields for a limited period.

Virginia-based immigration lawyer Santosh R. Somi Reddy said as part of the visa process, the students had then applied for the H1B non-immigrant visa programme. As they could not make it through that programme, however, they then got themselves enrolled into the fictitious university to elongate their stay.

“There are at least 600 international students impacted due to this fake Farmington University,” Reddy, who is representing some of the detained students, told ThePrint.

“All of them came to the US legally, two to three years ago, and most have completed their master’s degree and were working when they fell into this trap laid out by ICE,” he said. “This is unprecedented. There could be more such universities.”

The trouble began for the students on 31 January, when the ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations arrested eight student recruiters from Detroit, Florida and Virginia.

The ICE said they were arrested for “conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit”. The action was part of an undercover operation — Paper Chase — under which the authorities had set up the fictitious ‘University of Farmington’ and recruited a large number of students.

This eventually led to the arrest of around 600 students — hailing mostly from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — across the US. Of these, 130 students were detained and put into detention or immigration centres while the rest are mostly out on bail. They are all facing civil charges across various detention and immigration centres in the US.

Sreedhar NagiReddi, an IT professional based in Virginia for the last 20 years, said one of the students was arrested just hours before he was to board a flight back to India realising that he was falsely implicated and that he got enrolled into a fake university. He was handcuffed, his legs tied as he was “dragged” and put into a detention centre, NagiReddi alleged.

“This is not a normal visa overstay case. This will have repercussions at the international level, especially for Indian students coming to the US for higher studies,” said NagiReddi, who is one of the members of the Indian diaspora representing the Telugu community. “There needs to be outrage. Their big American dream lies in shatters now.”