India has sought consular access and has given “top priority” to its students detained by the US authorities and has impressed upon the Trump administration the need to address the situation at the earliest, the external affairs ministry said on Friday.

Asserting that the government was according the “highest priority” to the situation arising out of the detention of Indian students in the US, External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

India has also highlighted that a distinction should be made between those involved in recruiting or enrolling students and students who have been duped or defrauded in the process.

“As soon as we received the information regarding their detention, our mission contacted the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security requesting for a list of the detained students along with relevant identity details, the place of their detention, etc,” he said.

He said the government together with Indian Mission in Washington and the Indian Consulates in the US were according the highest priority to the situation arising out of the detention of Indian students in the US.

“We have placed a formal request for consular access, emphasizing that the request may be taken as a very high priority. We have highlighted that a distinction should be made between those involved in recruiting or enrolling students and students who have been duped or defrauded in the process,” Kumar said.

“Our Mission and Posts are ready to render all assistance to Indian students in the US to deal with the emerging situation. We have also involved Indian community organizations in reaching out to the students,” Kumar said, adding India is monitoring the situation closely.

As many as 129 Indians were among the 130 foreign students arrested for enrolling at a fake university allegedly to remain in the US, even as immigration attorneys claimed that the youths were not aware of the varsity’s illegitimate operation and criticised authorities for using “troubling” methods to trap them.

The university in Detroit’s Farmington Hills was part of an undercover operation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designed to expose immigration fraud, according to federal prosecutors who announced charges in the case.

In what the authorities called a “pay-to-stay” scheme, the foreigners knowingly enrolled in the fake school to falsely maintain their student visa status and remain in the US, according to prosecutors.

“The ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has administratively arrested 130 foreign nationals enrolled at the University of Farmington for civil immigration violations. Of the 130, 129 were Indian nationals,” Khaalid H Walls, an ICE spokesperson, told PTI.

“These individuals have been placed in removal proceedings, and ICE will seek to maintain them in its custody pending the outcome of those proceedings,” he said.

The ICE agents made the arrests on Wednesday, the same day federal indictments were unsealed that charged eight people, all of whom are either Indians or Indo-Americans, in a visa fraud scheme.

The eight defendants were charged criminally for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit. But the 130 students were arrested on only civil immigration charges, Detroit Free Press reported.

The sweep was one of the largest targeting immigrants from India in recent years, immigration attorneys said.

The arrests took place across the US, in New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston, Michigan, California, Louisiana, North Carolina and St Louis. The students had immigrated legally to the US on student visas and had transferred to the University of Farmington so they could work, said attorneys.

Federal prosecutors claim the students were aware the university was not running a legitimate operation. But attorneys who have spoken with students or with family and friends of those arrested are pushing back against the government’s claims.

Ravi Mannam, an immigration attorney in Atlanta, said the fake university “hooked these students by promising them credits for their previous master’s programmes”.

He said what the University of Farmington was offering – allowing students to work while enrolled – is not unusual. So the students may have thought it was an authorised university and work programme through a type of F-1 visa known as CPT (Curricular Practical Training).

Mannam said some Indians had come to the US to enrol elsewhere, only to find that their intended programme had lost accreditation. So they enrolled at the University of Farmington, believing that they could apply their prior credits to the new programme, which seemed to emphasise work experience.

(With PTI inputs)