Virginia, Not ICE, Closes Suspect University of Northern Virginia

By David North, July 18, 2013

The University of Northern Virginia (UNVA) — a very marginal institution that relied heavily on foreign students, notably those from India, and that was raided two years ago by Immigration and Customs Enforcement — was closed Wednesday, July 17, by the State of Virginia, not by ICE.

As is all too often the case, an institution outside the immigration business has stepped in and done the work that should have been done by the Department of Homeland Security, as the Securities and Exchange Commission did recently in a $145 million immigrant investor (EB-5) fraud case I described in an earlier blog.

The State Council for Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) issued a cease and desist order to UNVA yesterday on non-immigration-related grounds; it did so because, despite years of warnings, the institution could not secure accreditation from a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accreditation agency. Kirsten Nelson, a press officer for SCHEV, confirmed the action over the phone with me that afternoon.

The federal law covering institutions that issue documents leading to F-1 visas is so feeble that it does not require such accreditation, and ICE did not use what I regard as its other powers to shut UNVA's doors.

The foreign students at UNVA will now have to scramble for admission to other educational institutions or return home, as they have been plunged into illegal status. ICE will probably announce some transitional arrangements for them.

In a Backgrounder I did last year for CIS, "Visa Mills, Diploma Mills, and Other For-Profit Colleges", there was this description of the institution:

The next place to be raided was the University of Northern Virginia (UNVA); it is located in a modest housing complex in Annandale, Va., and was visited by ICE agents on July 28, 2011, (and by me two days later). ICE carted off lots of documents and suspended the organization's right to issue the I-20 [which leads to the F-1 visa].

The owner of the institution also owns three Chinese groceries. UNVA was accredited by the American University Accreditation Council, which is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. One news report adds: "The address listed as the council's headquarters is an auto-body repair shop owned by the chairman of Northern Virginia's board. A caller to the number listed on the accreditor's web site was greeted with the following message Thursday evening 'This is D'Angelo, so get at me back.'"

To add a little spice to the ambient sleaze, Wikipedia noted, based on stories in the New York Post and the Daily Mail, admittedly scandal sheets both, that:

Chancellor David V. Lee resigned on August 19, 2011 [three weeks after the raid], stating that "discussions of my personal life have become a distraction for students and friends of UNVA." His resignation came after The Smoking Gun reported that Lee was involved with sadomasochistic sexual activities.

Bear in mind that the reporting about the accreditation process (if not the chancellor's extracurricular activities) comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education, a distinctly establishmentarian publication that enthusiastically supports the extensive use of U.S. education by foreign students.

Also bear in mind that after all of the above, ICE suspended UNVA's I-20 authority only temporarily. UNVA is now very much back in the business of issuing the documents that create student visas.

I first learned of the SCHEV action because of an item written by Watchdog.org's Virginia Bureau. The full article from the Chronicle of Higher Education can be seen here and for more on the former UNVA Chancellor, see here.

There will undoubtedly be more developments in the case.

UPDATE: I paid a visit to the site this morning, and found the small staff operating as if they were still in business; I posed as an uncle of a would-be F-1 student and was told that I would receive an e-mail about the university's Master of Business Administration program. (It has not yet arrived.)

When I asked about accreditation, the admissions officer said that they were certified by SCHEV and were also seeking accreditation from another organization. I sought to look in on a class and was told that except for an ESL class, nothing was going on during the day, because classes met mostly at night and on weekends.

All the classrooms are in the one three-story building, I was told, which is largely rented out to Korean entities. I counted three regular classrooms, and one room full of desktop computers, which had four of five people in it. Four classrooms for the entire university!

The spokeswoman for SCHEV said this morning that she did not know whether the paper copy of the cease-and-desist notice had reached UNVA yet, and this was the crucial, formal notification of the agency's action. However, the little university probably knows about the state government action; I overhead the receptionist saying to someone over the phone "Yes, the chancellor is seeing what we can do about that."