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Herguan Students in Limbo After Feds Downgrade College Status

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Herguan University alumni. (Herguan University photo)
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    The largely Indian student population at Herguan University in Sunnyvale, Calif., was thrown into legal limbo Aug. 2, when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents arrested its CEO on charges of visa fraud and notified the college of their intent to withdraw its ability to admit foreign students.

    Jerry Wang, 32, founder of Herguan University and the University of East West Medicine, was arrested at his home and charged with falsifying documents that allowed foreign students to obtain visas and enter the U.S. The 15-count indictment against Wang and his parents could result in a 23-year sentence and $1 million in fines.

    The college has been given 30 days to meet federal standards under the Student Exchange and Visitors Program; if the university cannot meet such standards, it will lose its SEVP status.

    More than 400 of the 450 students enrolled at Herguan are from India. Many transferred to the university after federal authorities shut down Tri Valley University in January 2011 under similar circumstances. The students now face the prospect of transferring to yet another university – a costly procedure since credits for previously-completed coursework may not be recognized – or returning to India without a degree. 

    Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, told India-West that Herguan University currently has its SEVP status and students can continue to attend classes there. 

    “If the two schools ultimately have their SEVP certification withdrawn, foreign students whose lawful immigration status is contingent upon their enrollment in these schools will have to transfer to other SEVP-certified institutions or depart the United States,” said Kice. Students who choose not to re-enroll have seven days to leave the country, according to ICE.

    India-West reported last August that Herguan University was potentially being investigated as a “visa mill.” ICE would not comment on such speculation last year and continued to allow foreign students to enroll at Herguan.

    Asked why students were not warned of impending action against their college, Kice said: “The timing of such enforcement actions is dictated by the progress of our formal investigation. Our priority in such instances is preserving the integrity of the criminal inquiry.”

    “For that reason, we would never provide advance notice about the execution search or arrest warrants related to an investigation. That posture applies in any criminal case,” she said.

    Herguan University charges $2,665 per semester for full-time enrollment, and estimates that enrollment in a two-year program would cost $13,000, not including housing and boarding. Students facing the prospect of transferring stand to lose thousands of dollars they have already paid in admissions fees.

    Deepali Lugani, an associate with the Law Offices of Kalpana V. Peddibhotla, told India-West that the firm recommends that Herguan students immediately seek transfers to another accredited university and not wait out the 30-day period as ICE determines whether to let the college keep its SEVP status.

    Even if Herguan University survives ICE’s notice of intent to withdraw, foreign students who continue to remain there could face requests for evidence from federal authorities to show that they did not commit immigration fraud or overstay their U.S. visas, said Lugani, noting that the requests for evidence involved an arduous process of paperwork.

    She noted a similar situation at the University of Northern Virginia last year, where the school – a magnet for Indian students – survived ICE’s 30-day notice and continues to provide education. Former students of the school have been required to provide evidence that they stayed in status for the duration of the investigation.

    Students can find accredited schools at http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.aspx. ICE has also posted a bulletin for Herguan students at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/alerts/herguan.htm.

    A statement on Herguan University’s Web site noted: “Herguan University is open and conducting classes as usual! The University is seeking answers to the students’ questions from experts. By the end of this week, we will contact students with instructions on how they should proceed in light of recent events. Please check this website. Thank you for your patience.”

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