The recent arrests of 21 individuals involved in enrolling foreign students in a sham university in the U.S. should serve as a sign of caution for foreign students wishing to study in the United States. The arrests centered around the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ). This school appeared to be like any other U.S. institution of higher learning, however unknown to students, UNNJ was actually a fake school, established and setup by the Department of Homeland Security’s Investigation Department. The investigation was designed to target Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified schools and other individuals who planned to fraudulently use the school and the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to commit federal crimes.
The individuals arrested through the Department of Homeland Security’s operation were brokers, whose job is to find foreign students, typically from China and India, looking to study in the U.S. In this case the brokers were directly told by university officials (who were actually Homeland Security agents acting as university officials) that there would be no actual classes for student to attend. The brokers knew that the school was established solely to issue F-1 student visas, enabling foreign students to remain in the country. Some of the arrested brokers also helped setup authorization for student to work through Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs, authorized through the school. A few of these students obtained high profile jobs at Apple, Facebook and Morgan Stanley.
In total, the brokers helped secure F-1 student visas through UNNJ, for 1,076 international students. The Department of Homeland Security has stated that most of these students will have their immigration status revoked, requiring them to depart the U.S. All of the students involved in the case were currently living in the U.S. In fact, they had all originally obtained F-1 student visas through legitimate schools where they actually attended classes. However, once their program of study ends, the students have limited options that allow them to remain in the U.S. This is why many students end up in contact with brokers and eventually enroll at knowingly fake schools.
Typically, after graduating from their authorized program of study, foreign students engage in OPT, which allows the student to work, or alternatively they enroll in a new school. Both of these options provide a way for foreign students to legally remain in the country. The brokers involved with UNNJ were therefore able to facilitate a way for these students to remain in valid status. Many brokers paid UNNJ thousands of dollars to obtain these new student visas or work authorization for students. Some brokers even went so far as to develop fake work projects that were to supposedly take place at the school itself. The brokers created fake contracts and employment verification letters and paid undercover officials at the school thousands of dollars to print these documents on the school’s letterhead and signed by school officials.
On April 4 and 5 of 2016, all school records at UNNJ were terminated and all students were found to have knowingly engaged in student visa fraud. All of the students enrolled with UNNJ were found to have done so with the sole purpose of obtaining or maintaining their immigration status, with no intention of ever attending classes or completing a program of study. In fact, all students were aware from the beginning that there would never be any classes to attend. Other students who transferred from UNNJ to other schools will also have their school records terminated in the upcoming weeks. If these students choose not to file for reinstatement or if they are denied reinstatement by USCIS, they must depart the U.S. immediately.
The sham university was setup by the Department of Homeland Security as a way to not only identify and arrest the brokers involved but also to help uncover the network of student visa fraud, including other fake universities, around the country. Foreign students looking to study in the U.S. should therefore be extremely cautious when contacted by any broker or agent promising to secure their F-1 visa or OPT or CPT work authorization through a U.S. school. Students must always talk to their designated school official and that person must ensure that the students’ work is integral to their major and for CPT that is integral to their program of study. Students must have actually attended classes and be up to date on all degree requirements in order to seek work authorization. Any person telling students otherwise, whether it be alleged school officials or so-called brokers, is most likely part of the fraudulent network. Students should avoid these individuals and talk only to trusted school officials.
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