Feds set up fake college to nab ‘pay-to-stay’ visa schemers

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/04/07/feds-set-up-fake-college-to-nab-pay-to-stay-visa-schemers/

(CNSNews.com) – The University of Northern New Jersey in Cranford has no teachers and no curriculum, but it did attract more than a thousand foreign “students” who enrolled in the storefront school to fraudulently maintain their student visas.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Tuesday that agents from its Homeland Security Investigations have arrested 21 brokers, recruiters and employers from across the United States who allegedly conspired with the “students” in a “pay-to-stay” scheme.

Through UNNJ, undercover HSI agents posed as school administrators who were authorized to issue a Form I-20. This document certifies that a foreign national has been accepted to a school as a full-time student, and it typically allows legitimate foreign students to obtain an F-1 student visa.

The F-1 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 institution accredited by ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

In the UNNJ case, HSI agents identified hundreds of foreign nationals, primarily from China and India, who previously entered the U.S. on F-1 student visas to attend other SEVP-authorized schools.

Through various recruiting companies and businesses located in New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York, and Virginia, the 21 defendants allegedly helped approximately 1,076 of these foreign individuals — all of whom were willing participants in the scheme — to fraudulently maintain their nonimmigrant status in the United States on the false pretense that they continued to participate in full courses of study at the UNNJ.

“These unscrupulous individuals undermine the integrity of the immigration system,” said Terence S. Opiola, special agent in charge of HSI Newark.

Paul J. Fishman, a U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, said “pay-to-stay” schemes not only give legitimate visa programs a bad name, “they also pose a very real threat to national security.” Fishman praised the HSI investigation for stopping the 21 brokers, recruiters and employers across multiple states “who recklessly exploited our immigration system for financial gain.”

Court documents say many of the defendants operated recruiting companies for purported international students. They did not know that UNNJ was created in September 2013 by HSI.

During the sting operation, ICE said the recruiters told undercover HSI agents that none of their foreign clients would attend any actual courses or earn credits as the rules require.

The foreign “students” were paying the recruiters just to maintain their student visa status. ICE said the recruiters created hundreds of false student records, including transcripts and diplomas, to deceive immigration authorities.

In some cases, the recruiters used UNNJ to fraudulently obtain work authorization and work visas for hundreds of their clients, who went on to get full-time jobs with “numerous U.S.-based corporations.”

ICE said its HSI team in Newark is now working to terminate the nonimmigrant student status for the 1,076 foreign nationals who used UNNJ to hide their visa fraud. Most of them will be placed into deportation proceedings.

The 21 defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, making false statements, and/or conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit. The maximum possible prison terms range from five to ten years, depending on the charges, and a $250,000 fine.

According to ICE, as of November 2015, there were 1.2 million foreign non-immigrant students studying in the United States at 8,803 U.S. schools certified to enroll international students.

— Written by Susan Jones