Mostly Indian and Chinese students are among over 1,000 people facing deportation from the US after being caught in an undercover operation that involved a fake university set up by the US government to catch visa fraud.
21 suspects were arrested on Tuesday of felony charges that include conspiracy to commit visa fraud; they could face multiple years in prison.
“Foreigners who used the services will likely not be prosecuted, but will have their visas revoked,” New Jersey US Attorney Paul Fishman told reporters on Tuesday.
Federal investigators in 2013 set up the phony “University of Northern New Jersey”, which had a website that promised “exceptional” education for foreign students wishing to study in the US and provided links to academic programs, a message from the “president,” a Dr. Steven Brunetti, Ph.D.; and photos of attractive young people sitting around a library table or consulting with a faculty member.
Its “office” was staffed by undercover agents who posed as school administrators.
Those arrested knew the school was bogus, as did the foreigners who pretended to be students there in order to stay in the US, officials said. But they didn’t know it was set up as part of a sting by undercover agents from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The website, which was taken offline on Tuesday afternoon, even had a school seal that appeared to have been modeled on Princeton University’s.
The middlemen under arrest paid the undercover agents running the school thousands of dollars to produce paperwork that made it look as if the foreigners were enrolled there, federal prosecutors said. That enabled the “students” to maintain their visa status without having to go to class.
The suspects are accused of marketing their services to foreign nationals primarily from China and India who entered the US on legitimate student visas and wanted to stay on.
In the US, F-1 student visas allow foreign students to enter or remain in the country as they study.
Immigration officials have investigated hundreds of suspected fake schools, or “visa mills,” in recent years.