How a fake varsity helped in busting a scam

Federal authorities posed as owners and employees of a university, which had no other instructors or staff so that they could trap foreign citizens trying to illegally remain in the US.

By Author  |  Published: 31st Jan 2019  11:16 pmUpdated: 13th Jul 2019  4:55 pm
US visa fraud
‘The headquarters of the college was in an office building (pictured) on Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills. — Photo: From Web.

Hyderabad: Sting operations seldom get quirkier than this. According to US federal authorities, undercover agents posed as owners and employees of a university, which had no other instructors or staff, no curriculum or actual classes, so that they could trap foreign citizens trying to illegally remain in the United States.

The eight persons who were arrested earlier this week in the US were identified through this operation. The indictment (charge sheet) filed by the authorities says that the University of Farmington, beginning from 2015, was part of a federal law enforcement undercover operation designed to identify recruiters and entities engaged in immigration fraud. The University was not staffed with instructors/educators, it had no curriculum, no actual classes, nor any educational activities.

The University, they said, was being used by foreign citizens as a pay-to-stay scheme which allowed these individuals to stay in the US, falsely asserting that they were enrolled as full-time students in an approved educational programme and that they were making normal progress towards completion of the course of study.

“Each of the foreign citizens who ‘enrolled’ and made ‘tuition’ payments to the varsity knew they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress towards an actual degree in a particular field of study – a pay-to-stay scheme,” the indictment said.

“Rather their interest was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorisation under the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programme. Each of the student knew that the University’s programme was not approved by the US Department of Homeland Security, was illegal, and that discretion should be used when discussing the programme with others.

The operation, according to the indictment, found that the eight persons who were arrested were ‘recruiters’ and profited from the pay-to-stay scheme. In exchange for cash, kickbacks, scholarships and tuition credits, they enlisted hundreds of foreign citizens to enroll at the University. The main charge against them, accordingly, was that they ‘conspired with foreign citizens to fraudulently maintain their non-immigrant status as students and helped them unlawfully stay and obtain employment authorisation in the US.

Why they wanted a student visa:

In order to study in the US, students must get certain types of visas and approval from universities authorised by the Department of Homeland Security. After obtaining an F-1 visa, the student has to stay enrolled and maintain progress toward a degree; if not, they have to leave the US within 60 days. The indictment says the suspects through their operations allowed students to stay in the US without proper visas.