For the families of possibly more than 400 Indian students in the U.S. it must have seemed like an encore to a nightmare, as they found themselves trapped in yet another university visa scam, even as the echoes of the 2010 Tri-Valley University (TVU) fiasco continue to reverberate through the U.S. higher education system.

This time 450 students in Herguan University of Sunnyvale, California, 94 per cent of them Indian according to some estimates, faced an uncertain future after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a “notice of intent to withdraw” accreditation.

On Thursday, federal agents were said to have raided Herguan and charged its CEO, Jerry Wang, with visa fraud “in a 15-count indictment that could send him to prison for up to 23 years and amount to more than $1 million in fines.” He faces specific charges of submitting false documents, false transfer letters and making false statements to federal regulators.

The San Jose Mercury News quoted a graduate still connected to Herguan, as saying that “the news of the raid came as a shock,” adding that foreign students were told “that in the next 15 days, if something doesn’t change, you either have to find a different school or leave the country.”

According to a statement by the ICE, students currently enrolled at Herguan have two choices — either to “continue to attend classes, or continue to work at the job for which they were authorised Optional Practical Training, and maintain their active status in a manner required by regulations, or transfer to another Student and Exchange Visitor Programme-certified institution.”

Without prejudice clause

The option to maintain status under the current regulations would presumably include transfer to another university. However, the ICE guidance to the students took an ominous tone on the time frame for such transfers as it warned that they could not maintain their active status, “they must depart the country without prejudice within seven calendar days.”

The “without prejudice” clause suggests that re-application for a university position after returning to India would be an option too, and their prior enrolment at Herguan would not be a negative factor in the consideration of a second application.