Washington: US law enforcement agencies today arrested 21 people, including 10 Indian Americans, on charges of visa fraud involving about 1,000 foreign students.
Arrested in New York, New Jersey, Washington and Virginia these 21 individuals were brokers, recruiters and employers who conspired with more than 1,000 foreign nationals to fraudulently obtain student and foreign worker visas through a "pay to stay" New Jersey college, Department of Justice said.
"Today's arrests, which were made possible by the great undercover work of our law enforcement partners, stopped 21 brokers, recruiters and employers across multiple states who recklessly exploited our immigration system for financial gain," US Attorney Paul J Fishman said in a statement.
"Pay to Stay schemes not only damage our perception of legitimate student and foreign worker visa programs, they also pose a very real threat to national security," he said.
As per the federal compliant unsealed today, the defendants, many of whom operated recruiting companies for purported international students, were arrested for their involvement in an alleged scheme to enroll foreign nationals as students in the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ, a purported for-profit college located in Cranford, New Jersey.
Unbeknownst to the defendants and the foreign nationals they conspired with, however, the UNNJ was created in September 2013 by federal agents.
Through the UNNJ, undercover HSI agents investigated criminal activities associated with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), including, but not limited to, student visa fraud and the harboring of aliens for profit.
The UNNJ was not staffed with instructors or educators, had no curriculum and conducted no actual classes or education activities.
The UNNJ operated solely as a storefront location with small offices staffed by federal agents posing as school administrators, the Justice Department said.
During the investigation, HSI special agents identified hundreds of foreign nationals, primarily from China and India, who previously entered the US on F-1 non-immigrant student visas to attend other SEVP- accredited schools.
Through various recruiting companies and business entities located in New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York and Virginia, the defendants then enabled approximately 1,076 of these foreign individuals, all of whom were willing participants in the scheme, to fraudulently maintain their nonimmigrant status in the US on the false pretence 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, it said.
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".