21 caught in fake col­lege visa scam

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By HENG WEILI in New York heng­weili@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

It was an al­leged “pay-to-stay” stu­dent and worker visa scheme that could re­sult in a stay be­hind bars.

Twenty-one bro­kers, re­cruiters and em­ploy­ers from across the United States, who al­legedly con­spired with more than 1,000 for­eign na­tion­als — mostly from China and In­dia — to fraud­u­lently main­tain stu­dent visas and in some cases worker visas were ar­rested on Tues­day by federal agents, the US at­tor­ney for New Jersey an­nounced.

The de­fen­dants were ap­pre­hended in New Jersey and Wash­ing­ton state by agents with US Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) and Home­land Se­cu­rity In­ves­ti­ga­tions (HSI). Charges in­cluded con­spir­acy to com­mit visa fraud and con­spir­acy to har­bor aliens for profit.

“‘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,” said Paul Fish­man, US at­tor­ney for New Jersey.

Of the 21 de­fen­dants, seven are from New York (three from Flush­ing, Queens, and two from Man­hat­tan), seven from New Jersey, five from Cal­i­for­nia, one from Illi­nois and one from Ge­or­gia.

“In­di­vid­u­als en­gaged in schemes that would un­der­mine the re­mark­able ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded to in­ter­na­tional stu­dents rep­re­sent an af­front to those who play by the rules,” said ICE Home­land Se­cu­rity In­ves­ti­ga­tions Spe­cial Agent in Charge Ter­ence S. Opi­ola.

“These un­scrupu­lous in­di­vid­u­als un­der­mine the in­tegrity of the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem,” The de­fen­dants, many of whom op­er­ate re­cruit­ing com­pa­nies for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, were ar­rested in at­tempts to en­roll for­eign na­tion­als as stu­dents in the Univer­sity of North­ern New Jersey (UNNJ), a pur­ported for-profit col­lege os­ten­si­bly lo­cated in Cran­ford, New Jersey.

How­ever, “un­be­knownst to the de­fen­dants and the for­eign na­tion­als they con­spired with … the UNNJ was cre­ated in Septem­ber 2013 by HSI federal agents”, the state­ment said.

The UNNJ had no in­struc­tors or cur­ricu­lum and held no classes. It “op­er­ated solely as a store­front lo­ca­tion with small of­fices staffed by federal agents pos­ing as school ad­min­is­tra­tors”.

The so-called univer­sity claimed it was au­tho­rized to is­sue a “Cer­tifi­cate of El­i­gi­bil­ity for Non­im­mi­grant (F-1) Stu­dent Sta­tus - for Aca­demic and Lan­guage Stu­dents,” also known as Form I-20. The form cer­ti­fies that a for­eign na­tional has been ac­cepted to a school and would be a full-time stu­dent; the I-20 usu­ally al­lows le­git­i­mate for­eign stu­dents to get an F-1 stu­dent visa.

HSI agents iden­ti­fied hun­dreds of for­eign na­tion­als, mostly from China and In­dia, who had pre­vi­ously en­tered the US on F-1 non­im­mi­grant stu­dent visas to at­tend other Stu­dent and Ex­change Vis­i­tor Pro­gram (SEVP)-ac­cred­ited schools.

Through var­i­ous re­cruit­ing com­pa­nies and busi­nesses in New Jersey, Cal­i­for­nia, Illi­nois, New York and Vir­ginia, the de­fen­dants en­abled 1,076 of the for­eign­ers — all will­ing par­tic­i­pants — to fraud­u­lently main­tain their non­im­mi­grant sta­tus in the US on the pre­tense that they con­tin­ued full-time stud­ies at UNNJ, the US at­tor­ney’s state­ment said.

The de­fen­dants so­licited UNNJ ad­min­is­tra­tors to par­tic­i­pate, and dur­ing deal­ings with un­der­cover agents, they ac­knowl­edged that none of their for­eign na­tional clients would at­tend courses, earn cred­its or make aca­demic progress to­ward a de­gree.

The de­fen­dants sought to en­roll their clients in UNNJ to fraud­u­lently main­tain stu­dent visa sta­tus in ex­change for kick­backs or “com­mis­sions”, the state­ment said.

They also cre­ated false records, in­clud­ing tran­scripts, at­ten­dance records and di­plo­mas pur­chased by their clients to de­ceive im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties, the state­ment said.

The de­fen­dants used UNNJ to fraud­u­lently ob­tain work au­tho­riza­tion and work visas for clients. As a re­sult, nu­mer­ous de­fen­dants were able to out­source their for­eign na­tional clients as full-time em­ploy­ees with var­i­ous US-based cor­po­ra­tions.

Other de­fen­dants de­vised phony IT projects at the school. They cre­ated false con­tracts, em­ploy­ment ver­i­fi­ca­tion let­ters and tran­scripts. The de­fen­dants paid the un­der­cover agents thou­sands of dol­lars to put the school’s let­ter­head on the doc­u­ments, said the state­ment.

The de­fen­dants then used the doc­u­ments to fraud­u­lently ob­tain la­bor cer­ti­fi­ca­tions is­sued by the US and then to pe­ti­tion the gov­ern­ment for H1-B visas, said the state­ment.

These un­scrupu­lous in­di­vid­u­als un­der­mine the in­tegrity of the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.”

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