Federal agents set up a fake university as part of a sting operation that on Tuesday resulted in the arrests of 21 individuals on visa fraud-related charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey announced.
The 21 defendants were arrested for their suspected involvement in a “pay to stay” scheme in which they allegedly helped foreign nationals enroll in the sham University of Northern New Jersey, which purported to be a for-profit college but in fact was created by Department of Homeland Security agents in 2013. The institution had no instructors and no curriculum and held no classes. It did, however, have a storefront location that was staffed by federal agents who posed as school administrators.
Federal investigators identified hundreds of foreign nationals, primarily from China and India, who initially entered the U.S. on F-1 student visas to attend other educational institutions and then in effect “transferred” to this fake school. “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 U.S. on the false pretense that they continued to participate in full courses of study at the UNNJ,” the government’s press release stated.
“Acting as recruiters, the defendants solicited the involvement of UNNJ administrators to participate in the scheme. 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 defendants 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 some cases the defendants are accused of fraudulently obtaining work authorizations for their clients by issuing false documents that “created the illusion that prospective foreign workers would be working at the school … The defendants then used these fictitious documents fraudulently to obtain labor certifications issued by the U.S. secretary of labor and then ultimately to petition the U.S. government to obtain H1-B visas for nonimmigrants.”
The 21 defendants are variously charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud, making false statements, conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit and H-1B visa fraud. The former two charges are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; the latter two are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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