MLF Attorney Stepanova Interviewed for Investigative News Article

Digging for the truth, like prospecting for gold, is a labor-intensive business, and in some measure, we all are indebted to the journalists who are willing to sift through mountains of material to find the relevant nuggets of information. But how do they know what’s relevant, when the answer depends on an understanding of complex and highly specialized bodies of knowledge? By turning to subject matter experts: outstanding scholars and practitioners who are recognized by their peers as thought leaders in their chosen fields. Murthy Law Firm supervising attorney, Anna Stepanova, is one of them. Through her work with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and other professional organizations – publishing articles and presenting continuing legal education seminars – Stepanova has developed a reputation as a leading authority on student visas. Because of her expertise in this area, she was interviewed at length to provide background and context for a recent article that appeared in Mother Jones, an award-winning magazine known for its incisive investigative journalism. [See Who’s Behind Newsweek, by Ben Dooley, Mother Jones, May/June 2014.]

The story turns on the intricacies of U.S. immigration law – particularly the F-1 and F-2 student visas – alleging that IBT, a major media company, was using its ties to a small, obscure religious sect to recruit grossly underpaid – and illegal – overseas labor to run its business operations. According to Mother Jones, the religious sect runs a seminary that helps would-be students, and their dependents, to enter the country on F-1 and F-2 visas.

Once here, Mother Jones contends, the foreign students and their family members are expected to work for a media company affiliated with the seminary, under conditions that violate the express terms of their student visas. F-2 visa holders may not be employed here – full stop, even if unpaid – and F-1s may do so only under the narrowest of circumstances: a limited amount of on-campus work, and off-campus work only if it’s co-curricular, and the school gives special permission. Stepanova is quoted in the article, noting that the school’s interpretation of U.S. student visa rules simply makes no sense.

It’s a cautionary tale for any foreign student who dreams of studying in the United States: do your homework before you embark on a degree program in the United States – and stick with reputable programs. We hope that by helping Mother Jones to call attention to this issue, other foreign students will be prevented from falling prey to student-visa fraudsters.

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