ICE Nabs 21 With Fake ‘Pay-to-Stay’ New Jersey Sham College Sting
Twenty-one brokers, recruiters, and employers were arrested on April 5, 2016, who allegedly conspired with more than a thousand foreign nationals to fraudulently maintain student and foreign worker visas through a “pay-to-stay” New Jersey sham college set up as a sting operation. The arrests resulted from an extensive probe led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
According to ICE, 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. HSI special agents created UNNJ in September 2013.
Through UNNJ, undercover HSI agents investigated criminal activities associated with ICE’s 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 special agents posing as school administrators.
UNNJ represented itself as a school that, among other things, was authorized to issue a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for Academic and Language Students. During the investigation, HSI special agents identified hundreds of foreign nationals, primarily from China and India, who previously entered the U.S. on F-1 nonimmigrant student visas to attend other SEVP-authorized 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 U.S. on the false pretense that they continued to participate in full courses of study at UNNJ.
Acting as recruiters, the defendants solicited the involvement of UNNJ administrators to participate in the scheme, ICE said. During the course of their dealings with undercover agents, the defendants fully acknowledged that none of their foreign national clients would attend any courses, earn 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 ICE said were purchased by their foreign national conspirators for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities.
In other instances, ICE noted, the defendants used UNNJ to fraudulently obtain work authorization and work visas for hundreds of their clients. By obtaining this authorization, a number of defendants were able to outsource their foreign national clients as full-time employees with numerous U.S.-based corporations, also in exchange for commission fees. Other defendants devised phony IT projects that were purportedly to occur at the school. These defendants then created and caused to be created false contracts, employment verification letters, transcripts, and other documents. The defendants then paid the undercover agents thousands of dollars to put the school’s letterhead on the sham documents, to sign the documents as school administrators, and to otherwise go along with the scheme, ICE said.
“All of these bogus documents created the illusion that prospective foreign workers would be working at the school in some IT capacity or project,” ICE said. The defendants then used these fictitious documents fraudulently to obtain labor certifications issued by the Department of Labor and then ultimately to petition the U.S. government to obtain H1-B visas for nonimmigrants. These fictitious documents were then submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In the vast majority of circumstances, the foreign worker visas were not issued because USCIS was advised of the ongoing undercover operation, ICE said.
In addition, ICE said that HSI Newark is coordinating with the ICE Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) and the SEVP to terminate the nonimmigrant student status of the 1,076 foreign nationals associated with UNNJ and, if applicable, administratively arrest and place them into removal proceedings.
A chart at the link below outlines the charges for each defendant. The charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and making a false statement each carry a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charges of conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit and H-1B visa fraud each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Meanwhile, SEVP announced on April 5, 2016, that it terminated initial and active student records of any nonimmigrant student enrolled at UNNJ, as well as many active nonimmigrant students who have since transferred from UNNJ. The announcement is at https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/21-charged-fraudulently-enabling-hundreds-foreign-nationals-remain-us-through-fake-. A related announcement from the Department of Justice’s U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey is at https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/pr/21-defendants-charged-fraudulently-enabling-hundreds-foreign-nationals-remain-united.