UNVA Closure: Options for F-1 Students and Graduates

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) ordered the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA) on July 15, 2013 to close its operations in the United States. This action places UNVA students in limbo, with regard to both their academic and immigration status. With no guidance yet from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), many of the affected students are looking for options.

Background: Multiple Violations Lead to UNVA’s Closure

UNVA was initially established in Virginia in 1998 and fully accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) in 2003. In January 2007, SCHEV audited the school’s operations and found several instances of violations. By August 2008, UNVA had lost its accreditation. SCHEV granted a series of extensions, to provide UNVA with the time necessary to regain accreditation, but ultimately revoked the school’s license to operate in the State of Virginia, effective July 15, 2013.

As of July 2013, SEVIS Records Still Appear to Be Active

The recent closure of UNVA is different from the shutdown of Tri-Valley University (TVU), which was covered extensively on MurthyDotCom. As explained in the NewsBrief, Tri-Valley Update: SEVP and SEVIS Communications (9.Feb.2011), the TVU shutdown was the result of actions taken by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The closure of UNVA, on the other hand, was due to action taken by the state. Thus, while the SEVIS records of all TVU students were terminated by ICE without warning, as of this writing, ICE does not appear to have taken any action with regard to the UNVA SEVIS records, nor has ICE provided any guidance to the affected students. However, it seems highly likely that, sooner or later, ICE will terminate all UNVA SEVIS records.

UNVA Students Must Take Prompt Action

When SCHEV issued an order to UNVA to “cease and desist” its operations, it also obligated the school to either transfer its student records to SCHEV, or arrange to transfer the records to another institution of post-secondary education. It is unclear at this time if this record transfer has been completed. Students in F-1 status nonetheless should proactively try to avoid status problems by taking action immediately to remain in valid status.

Possible Options for UNVA Students

Depending upon the individual’s circumstances, a UNVA student in F-1 status may have several options, including: transferring to a different school; requesting a change of status; leaving the United States and returning as an initial or transfer student at a different institution; and/or leaving the U.S. and returning in a different nonimmigrant status. A student may wish to first consult with a qualified attorney, who can review the situation in greater detail and advise how best to proceed. This is a time-sensitive matter, however, and affected parties should move quickly to best ensure they do not fall out of status.

UNVA Closure Likely to Impact F-1s on OPT

It should be noted that not only are currently-enrolled students potentially harmed by the sudden shutdown of UNVA; those who are employed pursuant to optional practical training (OPT), or who have applied for OPT based upon the recommendation of UNVA are also in jeopardy. Assuming ICE will be terminating all SEVIS records not properly transferred to other schools, foreign nationals without active SEVIS records, including those on OPT, will be left with no status. Therefore, former UNVA students on OPT should act quickly to resolve this issue, while understanding that continuing to work on OPT may not be an option.


F-1 students are reminded that it is important to recognize and understand warning signs that the school of their choice may be in trouble. If the problem with the school has not been discovered until it is investigated or shut down by the state or federal government, it is advisable to take proactive steps to minimize any possible immigration consequences. It is expected that ICE will take action and issue guidance to the affected UNVA students in F-1 status in the aftermath of the school’s closure. The Murthy Law Firm remains actively involved in issues that impact F-1 students and will update readers on this developing story as information becomes available.

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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.