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US court lifts sanctions on Indian students who were victims of OPT fraud

NRI PULSE STAFF REPORT

A US district court has cleared the way for over 90 foreign nationals, mostly Indians, to return to the United States. They were previously denied reentry to the US or faced visa rejection due to their association with a fraud scheme linked to Optional Practical Training (OPT) committed by their former employers, reports the Times of India (TOI).

OPT allows foreign students to work in the US, especially in STEM fields, with some eligible for a two-year extension. Out of 270,000 Indian students in the US during 2022-23, 69,000 were part of OPT.

According to attorney Jonathan Wasden, who spoke to TOI, the fraud involved companies offering fake job roles to recent graduates for training programs. Despite being certified by DHS, these companies were later raided, resulting in students being labeled as inadmissible.

Wasden criticized DHS for not acting sooner to prevent students from falling victim to the scam.

“The agency assumed that anybody who had touched these companies was somehow guilty of fraudulent misrepresentations to the US government in an attempt to get a visa or immigration benefit,” Wasden told Bloomberg Law last year.

“DHS has to go through the process of actually giving the affected parties notice and the ability to respond,” Wasden said.

The complaint mentioned the case of Siddhartha Kalavala Venkata, who said he was in “complete pain” after learning he couldn’t enter the US.

Venkata worked at Integra through OPT after completing a master’s degree in 2016 at the New York Institute of Technology.

The company, listed as one of the largest participants in the OPT program, employing more than 700 student visa holders as recently as 2019, told students they needed to pay for training to further upgrade their skills.

Venkata left within months for a position with another IT firm and later attempted to change status from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa last year. But DHS denied his H-1B visa, deeming him inadmissible because of fraud or willful misrepresentation, the news report said.

“If I made a mistake, I would accept it. It was a mistake made by someone else. The US has given me a lot of opportunities that now I cannot use,” Venkata was quoted as saying in the report.

Venkata and others are asking the court to set aside the DHS’ decision on their visa applications and order that the agency allow them to respond to any fraud allegations before making a determination on their admissibility to the US.

The complaint stated that the DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act by exceeding its authority and deeming the plaintiffs as inadmissible without a full record of the evidence.

Wasden advised students to avoid companies charging for training and report any suspicious activities to DHS.

This court decision offers relief to affected students, allowing them to pursue their academic and professional goals in the US.

Cover photo used for representation only.

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