‘Pay to stay’ no more: Undercover DHS cops posing as university bust ‘sham visa mills’

© Lucy Nicholson
The University of Northern New Jersey offers nine graduate programs – pretty impressive for a school that doesn’t actually exist. Fake colleges like that one have led to a mass arrest of 21 people in connection with a fraudulent student visa ring.

Twenty-one people were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly conspiring with 1,000 foreign nationals to maintain fake student and work visas. The suspects, mostly American citizens of Chinese and Indian backgrounds, were caught when they attempted to obtain visas for individuals by having them enroll in a university – specifically the University of Northern New Jersey, a school run by undercover agents from the Department of Homeland Security, The Record reported.

The defendants were not attempting to better themselves at the University of Northern New Jersey, but rather trying to take advantage of “sham visa mills,” as US Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul J. Fishman put it on Tuesday.

These schools were set up to exchange money for certificates of eligibility that show a foreigner is a full-time student, which is necessary for people applying for a student visa.

None of the 1,000 students involved in the operation have been charged with anything, according to The Record. However, they have been placed under administrative arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for their alleged complicity in the scheme, WTVD reported.

Now that the “students’” visas are invalid, they will likely be deported to their countries of origin. Many of them are from China and India, but previously entered the country legally to attend a – hopefully real – university.

By posing as corrupt school officials, the brainchild of the undercover Homeland Security agents soon caught the attention of many visa brokers.

Once word got out, brokers descended on the school, clamoring to enroll their foreign student clients,” Fishman said in describing the University of Northern New Jersey’s reception.

The brokers created false student transcripts and diplomas in order to trick immigration officials, CNN Money reported.

The phony work papers managed to get some people into very good positions. Companies such as Facebook, Google, and even the US military were found to have hired employees who had used fake paperwork for visas.

The brokers’ arrest is the result of a three-year investigation. A year and a half ago, ABC News found that the Department of Homeland Security had lost track of over 6,000 foreign nationals that had entered the US on student visas.

Brokers charged fees starting at approximately $1,000 to $1,500, authorities told The Record. However, the “students” were paying out much more than that.

Other defendants charged their clients thousands of dollars and then the defendants made sham tuition payments directly to the university,” Fishman, the US attorney for the district of New Jersey, told the Record.

Brokers from New Jersey, New York, and Washington were all arrested, and dozens of schools came under suspicion of participating in the “pay to stay” scheme, as Fishman called it.