The University of Northern Virginia: Tri-Valley Version 2

As was reported in our NewsFlash posted on MurthyDotCom July 28, 2011, (University of Northern Virginia: F-1 Students Must Read!) the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has begun proceedings to terminate the SEVP certification of the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA). According to a posting on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) WebSite, UNVA was served with a Notice of Intent to Withdraw (NOIW) the school’s SEVP certification on July 28th. The university has thirty days to respond to the notice. As explained here, therefore, UNVA students find themselves facing transition. Seemingly, however, they appear to be receiving better treatment than that experienced by the Tri-Valley University (TVU) students after the high-profile ICE raid of that school in January 2011.

Raid Details Reported

According to news reports, ICE agents raided the UNVA campus in Annandale, Virginia on the morning of July 28th. While no one was arrested or detained at the campus, the agents apparently confiscated boxes of records and computers from the institution as part of an ongoing investigation. According to the same published reports, the university enrolls more than 2000 students, most of whom are foreign nationals, and almost all of whom are from overseas. Some of these students do not reside in Virginia. The school apparently is accredited only by the American University Accreditation Council, which is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. An ICE spokesperson would not detail the actual allegations made against the university.

Options Given by SEVP and Timeframes

As mentioned, UNVA has thirty days to respond to the NOIW. Once the response is received, SEVP must review the response and make a final determination regarding the withdrawal of the school’s SEVP certification and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) access.

According to the website posting by SEVP (cited above), students at UNVA have two options: (1) continue to attend classes and to otherwise maintain their student status while the proceedings regarding UNVA move forward, or (2) transfer to an SEVP-certified university. The posting further notes that UNVA no longer has access to the SEVIS database and, therefore, students needing to update their records or take other action with regard to their SEVIS registrations should contact SEVP directly at a number provided in the posting.

The contents of the notice are significant, in that it is clear that, unless and until the SEVP certification is withdrawn, the students remain in status, as long as they were complying with the terms of their F-1 status in all other ways. This means that they have alternatives, if they can act quickly.

Other Options: Changes of Status

As explained, the SEVP notice contained only two options, continuation of class attendance or transfer to a different, approved school. [It should be noted that many F-1 students have some additional paths they may choose, particularly options to change status. These should be discussed with your attorney. If you do not have an attorney experienced in U.S. immigration law, you may contact the Murthy Law Firm for a consultation.

In order to change status, it is generally necessary to be in status at the time of the change-of-status filing. Those with this option, therefore, need to act quickly, while the F-1 status remains valid. For many, there are options to change status to a dependant category, such as H-4, L-1, or F-2. For others, it may be possible to request a change of status to H1B.

Different from Tri-Valley Raid

The ICE actions at UNVA are in sharp contrast to the tactics undertaken during the January 19, 2011 raid of Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, California. In that instance, ICE and SEVP immediately terminated all of the SEVIS registrations of Tri-Valley students, thereby ending those students’ legal status instantaneously. The agency did not give TVU the 30-day period required by regulation to respond to the allegations against it, nor did it give the students the opportunity to transfer to other universities or to change to other nonimmigrant statuses before termination of their SEVIS registrations. Many students who attempted to transfer or to change status after the Tri-Valley closure had their applications denied by USCIS, because of SEVP’s sudden termination of their SEVIS registrations. Hundreds of TVU students were placed in removal (deportation) proceedings as a result of their involvement with TVU.

Criticism After Tri-Valley Raid

After the TVU raid, there was widespread criticism of ICE and SEVP for their failure to abide by the regulations on terminating SEVP certification. These regulations clearly mandate that an institution have a thirty-day period to respond to the agency’s proposed action. The regulations also mandate that the potential harm to the institution’s students be considered before revoking SEVP certification precipitously. It appears that the agency has taken the criticism of the TVU raid seriously and will be adopting a more measured approach in regard to UNVA.

Conclusion: Act Quickly

We at the Murthy Law Firm urge UNVA students to immediately contact a qualified immigration attorney to help address their situations. At this time, it appears likely that UNVA students will be permitted to transfer to other universities or change to other nonimmigrant statuses with relatively few complications. After the thirty-day period provided by regulation for UNVA to respond to the allegations against it, however, it is very likely that the school’s SEVP certification will be revoked, terminating the legal status of any students who have not filed for transfer or for change of status. While the school is allowed thirty-days to respond, and will likely take all or most of that time to prepare and file their response, it is possible that they could act more quickly. Time, therefore, is of the essence. Our firm began receiving calls from UNVA students immediately on the day of the raid, and we stand ready to help UNVA students during this transition.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.