Ritu Jha –
A fake university set up by US authorities has led to the arrest of eight students recruiters all from India. The “pay to stay” scheme was designed to identify recruiters and entities engaged in immigration fraud.
The eight recruiters have been alleged of fraudulently facilitating hundreds of foreign nationals in illegally remaining in the US. And has been arrested from around the country and charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harboring aliens for profit
The ‘University of Farmington in Michigan,’ was established in 2015 but had no staff, instructors and educators and curriculum, or building, However, enrolled students were offered Curricular Practical Training, a work authorization if they paid the tuition fee.
Confirming the arrest of the students, spokesperson Lori K. Haley of the Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told indica in an email, “Today, special agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations arrested numerous foreign nationals on administrative immigration violations as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into potential abuses of the U.S. student visa system. The individuals will be placed in removal proceedings, and ICE will seek to maintain them in its custody pending the outcome of those proceedings.”
The spokesperson at the US District Court Eastern Michigan told indica the students would be arraigned Thursday, at 1 pm.
According to the court indictment filed January 15, 2019, the international students who enrolled in the fraudulent university knew the university program was not approved by the US Department of Homeland Security(DHS) and was illegal.
The eight students arrested are Barath Kakireddy, 29, of Lake Mary, Florida; Suresh Kandala, 31, of Culpeper, Virginia; Phanideep Karnati, 35, of Louisville, Kentucky; Prem Rampersad, 26, of Charlotte, North Carolina; Santosh Sama, 28, of Fremont, California; Avinash Thakkallapally, 28, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Aswanth Nune, 26, of Atlanta, Georgia and Naveen Prathipati, 26, of Dallas, Texas.
According to the press release the indictments, issued from approximately February 2017 through January 2019, the eight students conspired with each other and others to fraudulently facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals to illegally remain and work in the United States by actively recruiting them to enroll into a metro Detroit private university that, unbeknownst to the conspirators, was operated by HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) special agents as part of an undercover operation.
As part of the scheme, the defendants/recruiters assisted foreign citizen “students” in fraudulently obtaining immigration documents from the school and facilitated the creation of false student records, including transcripts, for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities.
The illegal documents obtained as a result of the conspirators’ actions were based on false claims, false statements, and fraud since the purported foreign students had no intention of attending school, nor attended a single class, and were not bona fide students.
All participants in the scheme knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes. The defendants intended to help shield and hide their customers/”students” from United States immigration authorities for money and collectively profited in excess of a quarter of a million dollars as a result of their scheme.
“We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa program can also be exploited and abused,” United States Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a press note.
“Homeland Security Investigations special agents uncovered a nationwide network that grossly exploited US immigration laws. These suspects aided hundreds of foreign nationals to remain in the United States illegally by helping to portray them as students, which they most certainly were not. HSI remains vigilant to ensure the integrity of US immigration laws and will continue to investigate this and other transnational crimes,” Special Agent in Charge Francis said in a press note.
The court documents show that Aswanth Nune aka Ashwanth Nune was arrested for committing visa fraud and harboring aliens, and from about June 2017, making a profit of $25,000, knowingly committing offenses in the US.
On June 12, 2017, Nune met an HSI undercover agent after he and other students asked for concessions for recruiting students and agreed to collect $500 for the first four students and $1000 for each recruited students thereafter. He recruited about 18 students.
Sama and Kandala, two other students, allegedly met the undercover agent last January to hand over $20,000.
If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.
One of the friends of the student impacted by the fake university who lives in Florida told indica, “The students are terrified.” His friend from Michigan called and confirmed that his friend has been take into custody.
“They are taking into custody students from various universities… and not just Farmington Hills,” he said.
According to a media report, this is not the first time the federal agency has set up a fake university to target fake recruiters luring foreign students to the US by promising them work permits.