Feds Net 21 in ‘Pay to Stay’ Immigration Fraud Scheme

U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul J. Fishman speaks during a press conference on August 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.
Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Federal officials accuse 21 individuals of allegedly participating in a “pay to stay” scheme in which they conspired with more than a thousand foreign nationals to fraudulently remain and work in the U.S. by posing as students.

Authorities netted the 21 visa hucksters by setting up a phony university, the University of Northern New Jersey. It offered no classes, curriculum, or educational benefit but allowed foreigners to fraudulently remain in the U.S. by calling themselves “students.”

The 21 alleged conspirators and approximately 1,076 foreign “students” knew the school was bogus, according to ICE, but were not in on the fact that the fake school was actually set up by federal authorities.

UNNJ advertised as a for-profit school that was authorized to issue “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for Academic and Language Students,” or a Form I-20, which certifies a foreign national is enrolling in a full-time school, allowing the “student” to obtain an F-1 student visa and remain in the U.S.

According to ICE, in addition to seeking the involvement of UNNJ administrators (who were, in fact, undercover agents), the defendants also falsified documents and fake school projects to create the appearance that the school was actively involved in IT education.

“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 J. Fishman, New Jersey United States Attorney, said in a statement Tuesday. “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 addition to the 21 arrests, the government has started the process of terminating the nonimmigrants status of the 1,076 foreign “students” who participated in the conspiracy and place them in removal proceedings.