Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

India demands US release of students held in immigration sting

Fake university was set up to catch foreigners trying to stay on in the US illegally

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. AFP
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. AFP

India has asked the United States to release more than 100 of its citizens reported to have been arrested for allegedly trying to extend their stay in the country fraudulently by enrolling in a fake university that was set up in a sting operation by US immigration authorities.

The US Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency last week announced the arrest of eight people on charges of recruiting hundreds of foreign citizens to enrol in a Detroit area university for the purpose of extending their stay in the country illegally. The university, which was not named but is widely reported to be the University of Farmington in Michigan, was actually operated by US immigration officers, ICE said. A website for University of Farmington bears a message stating that it has been closed by ICE and asks affected students to "contact their local Homeland Security Investigations office".

India's foreign ministry said on Saturday that it had sent a letter to the US embassy in New Delhi to protest over the arrests of Indian students, who it said "may have been duped into enrolling in the university" and should be treated differently from the recruiters. It said it had urged the US to "release them from detention at the earliest and not to resort to deportation against their will".

The ministry said Indian consular officials had so far managed to contact about 30 of the arrested students and were trying to reach the others. A total of 129 Indian students have been detained, according to reports in Indian media which put the total number of students arrested at 300.

A 24-hour helpline has been set up to handle enquiries relating to the arrests and the Indian mission and consulates as well as the local Indian community were being mobilised to offer assistance, the ministry.

ICE said the recruiters arrested last week helped foreign citizens in "fraudulently obtaining immigration documents from the school and facilitated the creation of false student records, including transcripts, for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities".

"The illegal documents obtained as a result of the conspirators’ actions were based on false claims, false statements, and fraud since the purported foreign students had no intention of attending school, nor attended a single class, and were not bona fide students. All participants in the scheme knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes," it said.

The agency said the recruiters had made more than $250,000 (Dh918,000) from their scheme.

India had more than 196,000 citizens studying in the US during the 2017-18 academic year, making it the second biggest source of foreign students after China, according to data from the Institute of International Education.

Updated: February 3, 2019 04:10 PM