New Delhi, Jan. 10: Higher education consultants and the central government have cautioned Indian students to be careful in choosing the American universities they seek admission to.
The advice comes amid a controversy over the US denying entry to many Indian students over the past three weeks despite their having admission offers from two California-based institutions: Northwestern Polytechnic University and Silicon Valley University.
“All Indian students seeking admission in US educational institutions should do due diligence to ensure that the institutions to which they are seeking admission have proper authorisation and capacities,” a foreign ministry advisory says.
Apart from travel documents, the students should carry all the required documentation relating to their study plans, housing, financial support and healthcare arrangements, the advisory said. The students should be prepared for the interviews with US immigration officials, it added.
Three California-bound Indian students who were turned back from Abu Dhabi airport during a stopover on December 22 have told The Telegraph that officials at the local US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) desk “arbitrarily” cancelled their visas without even checking their documents. (See chart)
Around the same time, the US deported 14 Indian students bound for these two universities while Air India stopped 19 others from boarding their flight from Hyderabad citing a US “communication” about the varsities being “under scrutiny”.
A few days ago, the US deported another 20-odd Indian students seeking admission to Northwestern Polytechnic and Silicon Valley.
A source in the United States-India Education Foundation, which promotes education exchanges between the two countries, said students pursuing professional courses are advised to choose institutions accredited by the US Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Northwestern and Silicon Valley are accredited not by ABET but by the Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
“The ACICS is one of two national accreditors recognised by both the US department of education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation,” NPU president Peter Hsieh told this newspaper in an email.
An education consultant suggested that some Indian students may be using certain American universities, whose fees and entry criteria are “soft”, as a means to enter the US and seek illegal employment during their course period.
“They have no interest in pursuing a high-class education in the US,” said Naveen Chopra, chairman of The Chopras, an education consultancy firm in India.
Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director with Global Reach, a Calcutta-based education consultancy firm, sounded a note of caution for Indian students seeking admission to US universities.
He said many education agents work independently in India for US institutions. “They counsel and recruit students but do not have any accountability if something goes wrong.”
Two of the three students who spoke to this newspaper said CBP officials at Abu Dhabi had told them the institution they were headed to (Northwestern) was “not genuine” before cancelling their visas. The third, headed for Silicon Valley University, said he was not given any reason at all.
The CBP, which functions under the US department of homeland security, did not reply to this newspaper’s queries, emailed on January 3.
A state department spokesperson, however, told this newspaper in an email: “Section 222(f) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act prohibits us from disclosing details of individual visa cases.”
However, the US embassy in New Delhi had last week appeared to suggest obliquely that the students may have failed their CBP interview.
“We remind the public that even travellers with a visa can be denied entry if the immigration officer finds reason to question the legitimacy of their travel documents,” the statement said, “or finds that the traveller cannot adequately answer questions about the purpose of his or her travel to the United States.”
Hsieh, the Northwestern president, replied to this newspaper in the same vein, saying it was sad when a student failed an immigration interview and faced the prospect of explaining the matter before friends and family. He suggested that some of these students might not want to admit the real reason.
Hsieh also said that immigration officers might sometimes ask leading questions to trap students into providing a wrong answer.
“I could envision an immigration officer tempting a student into admitting that he or she really wants to come to the US to work illegally by suggesting that he or she really does not want to study, and once the student admits that, entry will be denied,” his email said.
Hsieh clarified that Northwestern would not support any illegal activity by its students. “We investigate all reports of illegal work activity and take appropriate action.”
Hsieh added that his university was expecting between 1,200 and 1,300 new students from India for the spring 2016 semester, after having declined more than 2,000 applications.
Students bound for several other US institutions were unfazed by the controversy.
Shamon Jacob, who left India on Wednesday to study for a Master of Computer And Information Sciences at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, said the officials ask general questions.
“Anybody going there with a genuine intention to study will not face any difficulty in answering questions,” he said.