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The Tri-Valley University Story and the Importance of Good F-1 School Practices (updated)

Updated: February 16, 2011

Many of our readers are aware of the story about Tri-Valley University (recent Google News) and how it was shut down by federal authorities for allegedly defrauding students and helping them obtain F-1 student visas in violation of immigration laws.

University Allegedly Committed Fraud and Violation of U.S. Immigration Laws

According to a recently released Notice of Intent to Withdraw, Tri-Valley University issued I-20 documents allowing foreign national students to come (or remain into) to the U.S. and authorized Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) to a number of its students.  While CPT is perfectly legitimate form of employment while on F-1 status, the government alleges that Tri-Valley did not meet a number of the requirements for participation on the F-1 program.

Specifically, Tri-Valley is alleged to have listed a few hundred of its 1,613 active F-1 students as residing at a two bedroom apartment in California, in violation of F-1 rules.  Additionally, Tri-Valley is alleged to have circumvented the requirement that F-1 students cannot take more than one course (or three credit hours) per semester online.  The rest of the enrolled courses must be taken at a brick-and-mortar location of the university.  According to the government, none of the F-1 students took courses at a physical location.

Additionally, Tri-Valley is alleged to have issued CPT work authorization for students in a program not directly related to his or her program of study.  Under F-1 regulations, CPT can be authorized only if it is related to a student’s course of study and the work must be in such field.

Tri-Valley University is also alleged to have allowed students to carry less than the minimum allowed course load under the F-1 regulations.

The list of alleged violations does not end here.  Tri-Valley University is alleged to have employed F-1 students as faculty, to have been sloppy with F-1-related paperwork and reporting requirements, among others.  As a result, the government seeks not only to revoke its ability to issue F-1 visas but also to shut it down permanently.

What Happens to the 1,600+ Students Enrolled in Tri-Valley University?

The initial reaction by USCIS and CBP was that these students are in violation of their F-1 status and should be subject to removal proceedings.  There are stories that some of these students were given tracking bracelets so that the government can track their movements, criminal defendant-style.    Since most of the F-1 students in Tri-Valley are Indian nationals, the Indian government issued a strong reaction to the heavy-handed treatment and, as a result, the U.S. immigration authorities seem to be backing down.

Recent communications from USCIS indicate that they may consider the possibility of reinstating the the F-1 student status by filing of Form I-539.  Initial indications, as of now, are that USCIS would consider reinstatement of F-1 status applications on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to reinstating F-1 status to the entire Tri-Valley student population.

Reinstatement of F-1 Status Requirements

Generally, the eligibility requirements for reinstatement of F-1 status are as follows:

  • The student must be currently enrolled or intend to enroll for a full-time course load;
  • Can establish that the violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond his/her control;
  • Has not engaged in unauthorized employment;
  • Has not been out of status for more than 5 months;
  • Can document sufficient financial resources to pursue a full-time course load;
  • Does not have a history of repeated violations; and
  • Is not deportable from the US on any other grounds.

In an extraordinary case such as Tri-Valley University, some of its students may run into difficulties meeting all of the eligibility requirements.  Specifically, the requirement of not being out of status for five months is likely to affect many of the students if the government considers the violation of status to have occurred earlier in their CPT employment.  We believe that this is one of the reasons that USCIS has indicated that they would accept and review F-1 reinstatement application on a case-by-case basis.

Importance of Good F-1 School Practices

The Tri-Valley University case illustrates how important it is for an F-1-authorized school and to an F-1 student to maintain proper F-1 practices.  While it is true that some students at Tri-Valley University were not aware of the school’s alleged misdeeds, it is plain to see how, according to the government’s allegations, some students were fully aware of the F-1 program violations committed by the school but continued nonetheless because Tri-Valley offered them an opportunity to work under CPT.

Unfortunately, there are other universities whose F-1 practices, based on anecdotal evidence, may be borderline improper.  A few of the red flags are: the school authorizes full load of online courses (only one per semester is permitted), the school authorized CPT in employment unrelated to the student’s degree, the school issued I-20 knowing that the student would not reside within driving distance of the school’s campus.

In light of this Tri-Valley University investigation, it is possible that other schools may be subject to increased scrutiny and investigation.  We are happy to have a phone consultation to help you evaluate your F-1 status terms and help you understand your options in case you have doubts.

Update:  Tri-Valley’s Response

Tri-Valley University, acting through its president, has responded to the SEVP notice.  A copy of the response and the university’s justifications can be accessed here.

How Our Office Can Help?

If you are a student affected by the Tri-Valley University shutdown, please contact us.  We would be happy to consult with you and analyze your options for filing for reinstatement of F-1 status, among other alternatives, if available.   Alternatively, we urge all F-1 students to keep in mind that it is also their responsibility to maintain F-1 status by following all relevant rules and regulations.

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Tips on Filing I-539 Applications

The Vermont Service Center has issued some guidance on properly completing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.  The guidance is based on experience with improperly completed and filed Forms I-539.

  • Ensure that the applicant and beneficiary names as entered in the form I-539 match the names as written in the passport;
  • Provide a copy of biographical page of the applicant’s passport and visa stamp (if applicable) as well as a copy of their I-94 arrival/departure record;
  • On B-1/B-2 extension applications, the reason/explanation for the request should come from the applicant rather than the attorney;
  • Submit documentary evidence that the applicant has the financial means to support themselves during his/her requested stay, as well as enough funds to return to the home country if a copy of the return ticket is not provided
  • On applications requesting a change of status to F-2 or M-1 or requesting a reinstatement to F-1 or M-1, the I-20 must be signed by the DSO and the Student. Additionally, the original must be provided to the service.

Many of our readers (and some of our clients) decide and file Form I-539 on their own.   While many cases are very straightforward, we urge self-filers to exercise extra caution in following directions when preparing and filing Form I-539, especially when the filing is made shortly before or after an event which has affected the applicant’s legal status in the U.S.  If you need professional help in preparing and filing Form I-539, please contact us.

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