GAO Audit of SEVP After the TVU Incident09 Mar 2012
The Director of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), Louis M. Farrell, recently revealed that SEVP is being audited by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as a follow-up to the Tri-Valley University (TVU) investigation. This was announced in the January 2012 issue of the agency’s online publication, SEVP Spotlight. The GAO audit was requested by two members of Congress, in the aftermath of the highly-criticized January 2011 raid of Tri-Valley University (TVU) in California, which affected many foreign national students in F-1 status.
Shutdown Caused Immigration Problems for Former TVU Students
SEVP shut down TVU on January 18, 2011 and effectively terminated all of its students’ SEVIS records without warning. MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers at that time saw numerous articles on the TVU incident, including, most recently, our May 27, 2011 NewsBrief, Murthy Takes Action: TVU Update. Many former TVU students continue to be plagued by lingering problems related to the abrupt termination of their F-1 student status in the aftermath of the shutdown.
Advocates Rally to Support TVU Students
Numerous advocates, including the Murthy Law Firm (MLF), the IndianAmerican Bar Association (IABA), and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), have argued for just treatment of the former TVU students. Many of these students were quickly rounded up or contacted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and placed in removal proceedings. Efforts by these organizations and others, have sought to facilitate appropriate immigration benefits and relief for former TVU students. SEVP and ICE indicated to many of the students that the USCIS would review their cases favorably, as they were unaware of TVU’s transgressions and were innocent in the institution’s scandal. Few affected students, however, found the USCIS receptive to their requests for changes of status or reinstatements to student status.
GAO Audit of SEVP and SEVIS to Improve Fraud Detection
According to SEVP Director Farrell, the GAO audit will include a review of the manner in which SEVP approves educational institutions for participation in the F-1 student program, as well as the process used by SEVP to monitor school compliance. The audit will also extend to a review of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) for areas of improvement with regard to fraud detection. This important step is in response to the unanswered questions on the manner in which TVU, an unaccredited school, gained SEVP certification. The allegations against TVU and its president included falsifying documents during the certification process. More questions have been raised as to the school’s questionable practices, such as issuance of curricular practical training (CPT) early in the programs of many students, which should have been detected far earlier, given the ongoing tracking of students through the SEVIS system.
Proper Procedures to Safeguard Innocent Students Not Followed by SEVP
The Indian Ambassador to the United States and others became involved in the handling of the TVU investigation and shutdown, seeking answers and fairness for the former TVU students. The public outcry and substantial media coverage of students and their treatment have led to the overall scrutiny of SEVP’s actions. SEVP did not follow proper procedures when it closed the school and terminated its students’ SEVIS records without any warning. Current regulations require that SEVP provide the school with the opportunity to respond to any derogatory information that may result in decertification of its license to administer the F-1 program. This did not occur in the case of TVU.
Further harm was caused by the failure to follow procedures, as students’ SEVIS records should have been maintained to give them the opportunity to transfer to different schools, change statuses, or leave the United States. Instead, the students were rendered out of status even prior to being made aware of the raid on the school. Many found themselves either in removal (deportation) proceedings or with no choice but to depart the U.S. to avoid deportation. Some students, even as of this writing, are stuck outside of the United States through no fault of their own.
The GAO audit of SEVP is a welcome development. The TVU incident was largely avoidable, through tighter investigation and monitoring of the school certification process, as well as compliance with existing regulations upon termination of the school’s authorization to participate in the F-1 program.
We at the Murthy Law Firm hope that the results of the audit will result in more transparency and accountability for the government in handling investigations and in the recertification of schools that administer the F-1 program. It should be noted that SEVP seems to have learned from the TVU incident, based upon its actions in the July 2011 raid of the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA), as explained in our NewsBrief on UNVA, The University of Northern Virginia: Tri-Valley Version 2 (01.Aug.2011). It is anticipated that the GAO results will be available in mid-2012. MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers will be advised of the GAO findings as they are made available.
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