All 130 foreign students, including 129 Indians who were detained for enrolling in a fake university, were aware that they were committing a crime to fraudulently remain in the United States, the State Department has said, days after India issued a demarche to the American ambassy in New Delhi.
The foreign students were arrested last week by the US Department of Homeland Security for enrolling at the University of Farmington allegedly to remain in America.
The fake university was set up by the DHS's investigating unit in Greater Detroit area to bust the "pay-and-stay" racket.
"All participants in this scheme knew that the University of Farmington had no instructors or classes (neither on-line nor in-person) and were aware they were committing a crime in an attempt to fraudulently remain in the United States," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.
The State Department's response came after India issued a demarche to the American embassy in New Delhi on Saturday, expressing its concern over the detention of Indian students and sought immediate consular access to them.
The external affairs ministry said India continued to closely monitor the situation arising out of the mass detention.
Eight of the individuals who ran this racket have been arrested and are either Indian citizen or Indian American.
The fake university which had no classes, a low tuition fee and gave work permits on the very first of the enrolments of the students had some 600 students, an overwhelming majority of whom are Indians.
The actual number of those detained is much higher. Some of the students who were released and many of those who escaped detention have left the country.
An unknown number of Indian students have been radio tagged and authorities have put restrictions on their movement.
The Indian embassy inWashington has made an aggressive effort to reach out to these students and, with the help of the community leaders, is providing them with legal help.
Eminent Indian-Americans and some media outlets have also questioned the modus operandi of the US government in the detention of Indians in the "pay-and-stay" university visa scam, saying "trapping of innocent students" is a "crime, illegal and immoral".
In the first reaction, days after the story broke out, the State Department had described it an unfortunate aberration in the proud history of India-US educational exchanges.
"More than a million international students' study at US institutions each year, including approximately 196,000 Indian students last year. Instances of fraud schemes are rare, unfortunate aberrations in the proud history of educational exchange between the United States and India," the State Department said.
The US government fully supports international education and is committed to facilitating legitimate student travel, it said in an apparent reference to the panic that the latest US move has created and reports coming out from India that students are now considering option to study in other countries and not the US.
"International students are a valuable asset to our universities and our economy and enrich our communities through sharing their diverse perspectives, skills, and experiences," it said, acknowledging that Indian students not only bring in about USD 6 billion per annum but also become instrumental in creation of thousands of jobs in the US.
"It is unfortunate that some student recruiters and individuals seek to use the international student programme to foster illegal immigration status in the United States," the State Department said.
Overseas Friends of BJP USA, in a statement, said that it was shocked to learn that 129 students of Indian-origin were arrested by the ICE, with about 600 students' fate in jeopardy.
"It is very unfortunate that several students are affected by this University and majority are Telugu students. Most of these students have joined to get their work permits without knowing that this college is not accredited and became victims of this. Their dreams are shattered now," North America Telugu Association said.
The association has advised other students not to fall into the trap and instead work hard and get OPT/CPT from reputed universities as per the normal guide lines.
"If some university is offering a CPT without any course, it is not true at all," it said.
The Indian embassy in the US has also opened a 24/7 hotline to assist 129 Indian students. It has appointed a nodal officer to help the students in distress.