129 Indians out of 130 ‘students’ arrested in US ‘pay-and-stay’ immigration scam
US authorities had arrested 129 Indians enrolled at a fake university ran by undercover agents in Detroit, Michigan to expose a “pay-to-stay” immigration fraud till Thursday and officials have said more apprehensions are expected.
The arrested Indians have been placed in “removal proceedings” — marked for deportation, in other words — and will remain in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until the conclusion of their case by immigration courts.
US prosecutors announced Thursday the arrest of eight men of Indian descent for using the fake university, University of Farmington, to run a “pay-to-stay” for foreigners stay on a student visa and work. The institute, which touted itself as a “nationally accredited business and STEM institution”, had no instructors and ran no classes or educational activities. It has since been shut down and its website has been taken down.
It enrolled at least 600 students, officials have said.
“As of yesterday morning, ICE had administratively arrested 130 foreign nationals enrolled at the University of Farmington for civil immigration violations,” Carissa Cutrell, a spokesperson for ICE, wrote in an email.
Of the 130, she added, 129 were Indian nationals.
“These individuals have been placed in removal proceedings, and ICE will seek to maintain them in its custody pending the outcome of those proceedings.”
Cutrell also said more arrests were expected.
Indian embassy in Washington DC has been in touch with US officials and has sought consular access to the arrested students and officials have said they are doing all then can to help.
Most of the affected are from Telengana and Andhra Pradesh and are also receiving help from community associations. One of them, the American Telugu Association has launched a webpage to help the students and organized a webinar with immigration lawyers to guide them “to be watchful with fake agents who promise illegal ways to stay in USA with admissions in unaccredited colleges”.
Lawyers have argued many of the students enrolled believing the university was legal. Some of them were studying elsewhere and switched to Farmington when their course lost accreditation. Other were doing second masters as looked for speciality work under the B-1B programme, which grants 20,000 visas every year to holders of advanced degrees from US educational institutions.
“The government utilized very questionable and troubling methods to get these foreign students to join the institution,” Ravi Mannam, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, told The New York Times.
Prosecutors, however, have argued the students knew what they were getting into. The indictments unsealed Thursday said the students knew the university’s programme was not approved by the government. “Each of the foreign citizens who ‘enrolled’ and made ‘tuition’ payments to the University knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study- a “pay to stay’’ scheme.
“Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorization under the CPT (a course-related curricular training programme that allows off-campus work authorization for foreign students).”