India monitoring detention of students after United States sting operation

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The 130 students arrested so far in a "pay-to-stay" sting operation using a fake university face only civil immigration charges, according to media reports. The two numbers - 202-322-1190 and 202-340-2590 - would be manned by senior embassy officials round the clock, officials said on Friday. The University of Farmington describes itself on its website as a real university, but was fake, according to indictments unsealed on January 30, 2019.

"Our concern over the dignity and well-being of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated", the statement said.

The University of Farmington, advertised as based in MI state, was run by undercover agents from the Department of Homeland Security to expose "pay-to-stay" immigration fraud.

The MEA release said that officials posted at India's mission and consulates have visited several detention centres in the U.S. to extend consular assistance to detained students. "These suspects aided hundreds of foreign nationals to remain in the United States illegally by helping to portray them as students, which they most certainly were not", Steve Francis, the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agent in charge, said in the statement.

The Indian government said the students could have been tricked into enrolling.

This is the first time India has issued a demarche to United States since the row over diplomat Devyani Khobragade in 2013.

In New Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, "We are aware about this incident". Undercover Homeland Security agents were working as university officials from 2017, tracking down and identifying alleged violators.

Adding that the "weight of the government of India" is behind the detained students, Mr Shringla said that the embassy officials have been travelling across the USA and meeting students at the detention centres since the matter was first reported.

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In the evolving case of the University of Farmington sting operation that The Hindu has been closely monitoring, 129 of the 130 arrested "students" are Indian nationals, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in an email.

For those seeking legal help, guidance and assistance is being provided by the Mission and Consulates.

On Thursday, the DHS shut down a website they had been created for the University of Farmington.

Over 600 Indian students in the United States, especially from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have been arrested for violating immigration rules.

'The University was not staffed with instructors/educators, it had no curriculum, no actual classes, ' it said.

The Indian Embassy here and its consulates are in touch with student organisation and offered help.

"The government utilized very questionable and troubling methods to get these foreign students to join the institution", Ravi Mannam, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, told The New York Times.

They collectively profited in excess of a $250,000, the agency said. Termed "pay-to-stay" scheme, the prosecutors have alleged that students knowingly enrolled themselves in the fake university to maintain their student visa status to remain in the US.

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