Washington: It wasn’t just a fake university; it was a fake, fake university, simulated by US authorities as part of an elaborate sting operation to infiltrate an immigration and jobs visa racket. Nearly 1000 “students,” mainly from India and China, will return home long-faced after US authorities announced Tuesday that they had busted a thriving education and foreign worker visa scam by setting up a phony university to entrap operators.
Twenty-one brokers, recruiters and employers from across America, who allegedly conspired with more than 1,000 foreign nationals to fraudulently maintain student visas and obtain foreign worker visas through the phony “pay to stay” New Jersey college set up by Homeland Security (HS) authorities, were arrested this morning by federal agents, the US Justice Department has revealed. Conviction for visa fraud and harboring illegal aliens for profit carries a sentence of five to ten years.
The sting was so elaborate that HS authorities roped in the State Department, FBI, Immigration and Customs, and state-level Education and Transportation offices to understand and bust the racket used by hundreds of Indians and Chinese to emigrate to the US Starting in September 2013, officials created what they called University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ), a purported for-profit college located in Cranford, New Jersey.
The UNNJ was not staffed with instructors or educators, had no curriculum and conducted no actual classes or education activities, operating solely as a storefront location with small offices staffed by federal agents posing as school administrators. Much like many existing sham universities that exist across the US, UNNJ represented itself as a school that, among other things, was authorized to I-20s, a document that certifies that a foreign national has been accepted to a school and would be a full-time student, and which typically enables legitimate foreign students to obtain an F-1 student visa.
The F-1 student visa allows a foreign student to enter and/or remain in the United States while the student makes normal progress toward the completion of a full course of study in an accredited institution. During the investigation, HSI special agents identified 1076 foreign nationals, primarily from China and India, who through recruiters and agents were “willing participants in the scheme – to fraudulently maintain their nonimmigrant status in the US on the false pretense that they continued to participate in full courses of study at the UNNJ.”
“During the course of their dealings with undercover agents, the defendants fully acknowledged that none of their foreign national clients would attend any actual courses, earn actual credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study. Rather, the defendants facilitated the enrollment of their foreign national clients in UNNJ to fraudulently maintain student visa status, in exchange for kickbacks or commissions,” the Justice Department explained in a statement.
It said the defendants, ten of who are of Indian origin, also facilitated the creation of hundreds of false student records, including transcripts, attendance records and diplomas, which were purchased by their foreign national conspirators for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities.
In other instances, the defendants used UNNJ to fraudulently obtain work authorization and work visas for hundreds of their clients, the statement said. By obtaining this authorization, a number of defendants were able to outsource their foreign national clients as full-time employees with numerous US-based corporations, also in exchange for commission fees.
Other defendants devised phony IT projects that were purportedly to occur at the school. These defendants then created false contracts, employment verification letters, transcripts and other documents. The defendants paid the undercover agents thousands of dollars to put the school’s letterhead on the sham documents, to sign the documents as school administrators and to otherwise go along with the scheme.
All of these bogus documents created the illusion that prospective foreign workers would be working at the school in some IT capacity or project. The defendants then used these fictitious documents fraudulently to obtain labor certifications issued by the US Secretary of Labor and then ultimately to petition the US government to obtain H1-B visas for non-immigrants, the Justice Department expose revealed at the tail end of the education and immigration racket.
Investigators said individuals engaged in schemes that undermined the educational opportunities afforded to international students represent an affront to those who play by the rules. “While the United States fully supports international education, we will vigorously investigate those who seek to exploit the US immigration system,” said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldana, adding. “As a result of this operation, HSI special agents have successfully identified and closed a gap in the student visa system and have arrested.