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Hordes of Indian, Chinese Students Caught in Feds Fake College Sting

Federal investigators create a fake university in New Jersey to catch 'pay-to-stay' student visa schemers.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   06-04-2016

The University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ), in the town of Cranford, has a website with smiling professors and happy students. It promises world class education for foreign students wishing to study in America.

Sounds fishy? Well, the fake university was created by U.S federal authorities on September 2013. They used it as a storefront school to arrest 21 people (at least 10 of them are Indian) on charges they conspired to help over 1,000 foreign students fraudulently keep or obtain student visas.

"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," said Fishman.

Most of the foreigners who benefited from the scam were from China and India and were already in the U.S. on student visas. Recruiting companies and business entities located in New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York and Virginia, helped 1,076 "students" — maintain their F-1 student visa status in the U.S on the pretext that they attended full time degree courses at UNNJ.

During the sting operation, recruiters told undercover Homeland Security Investigations agents that none of their foreign clients would attend any actual courses or earn credits as the rules require. The middlemen under arrest paid the undercover agents running the school thousands of dollars to produce fake transcripts and diplomas that made it look as if the "students" were enrolled at UNNJ, federal prosecutors said. That enabled them to maintain their student visa status without having to actually go to class.

"This was just another stop on the 'pay-to-stay' tour," Fishman said.

Officials said "hundreds of Indian and Chinese students have been identified and will be dealt with by immigration authorities — meaning they could face deportation — but won't be prosecuted," reported the Associated Press.

The Indian Embassy in Washington said it is in touch with the U.S government about Indians among these students, but declined to comment any further.

At least a dozen schools have been shut down or raided by U.S. federal authorities in recent years over allegations of visa fraud. These "diploma mills" admit foreign students but offer little or no instruction. In March this year, federal agents cracked down on Prodee University, located in Los Angeles. It is affiliated with three other schools: Walter Jay M.D. Institute and American College of Forensic Studies in Los Angeles and Likie Fashion and Technology College in nearby Alhambra.

“People think foreign students come to New York University and Harvard. We have a lot of mom-and-pop schools,” said Rachel Canty, deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE's) student exchange and visitor program, which certifies schools that enroll foreign students.

“We have been working to fix vulnerabilities,” she added.

Nearly 1.2 million international students are studying at 8,803 U.S colleges certified to enroll foreign students. India is the second-largest country of origin for international students in the U.S. after China, which sends 304,040 students.

 

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and a writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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