Feds set up fake college as sting for visa fraud

Feds set up fake college as sting for visa fraud

The Justice Department filed charges against 21 people on Tuesday for allegedly enrolling more than 1,000 foreigners seeking U.S. visas in a fake university set up by the Department of Homeland Security as part of a massive sting operation.

The fictional for-profit school, called the University of Northern New Jersey, had no instructors and taught no courses. Its only faculty were DHS special agents posing as school administrators operating out of what the Justice Department descried as a “a storefront location with small offices.”

ADVERTISEMENT

A preserved version of "UNNJ's" elaborate website, which has since been deleted, promises “a high quality American education to students from around the world.”

“Students are a part of a community where undergraduate, graduate, and international students along with distinguished faculty come together in an exhilarating atmosphere of ingenuity, creativity, and innovation,” the fake school added. “UNNJ takes pride in serving persons of all racial, ethnic, and geographic groups as it prepares students to attain academic, personal and professional excellence in a multicultural and global society.“

Sections of the website promised courses in accounting, computer science and marketing, and its advertised annual undergraduate tuition added up to $8,400.

The school itself was set up by the DHS’s investigations office.

The 21 defendants nevertheless unwittingly recruited 1,076 foreigners to enroll as students purely to receive student visas, the government alleges. According to the Obama administration, the recruiters were aware that none of the students would earn credits, take courses or in any way get an education through the fake university.

The government charged that the recruiters received commissions in the hundreds or thousands of dollars for their role in the “pay-to-stay” plot.

“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,” Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said in a statement. “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.” 

In some cases, the 21 recruiters helped make hundreds of fake transcripts, attendance reports and other records, the government alleged. Others turned the students’ enrollment into opportunities for them to work in the U.S., all while allegedly profiting commission fees.

They were charged with visa fraud, harboring foreigners for a profit or conspiring to do so, which carry maximum sentences of five to 10 years in prison and $250,000. 

In addition to the federal charges against the recruiters, DHS said on Tuesday that it is working to terminate the student visas for the 1,076 foreigners who had received them through the fake school. If warranted, they will be arrested and deported.