The pay-to-stay scheme comprises such foreign nationals who allegedly take admissions in fake institutions in the United States. They do it with the sole purpose of maintaining their student visa status falsely so that the authorities permit them to continue staying there.
The undercover agents of the Department of Homeland Security had set up the ‘University of Farmington’ which has now been closed. The university had no staff or regular curriculum. The Department of Homeland Security had opened it under its ‘Operation Paper Chase’.
Approximately 600 students, mostly Indians, had enrolled in the university in spite of knowing about it being fake and no classes being held there. According to the prosecutors, the students had paid over $250000 collectively to the recruiters for staying in the United States. One hundred sixty-one students got arrested during February and March 2019.
Two hundred fifty students have been arrested till now, and about 80% of them have received the grant of voluntary departure. The others have been given a final removal order.
The authorities charged eight recruiters of a conspiracy to aid the international students to stay in the US illegally in exchange for money. Their names are Phanideep Karnati, Prem Rampeesa, Santosh Sama, Suresh Kandala, Avinash Thakkallapally, Barath Kakireddy, Naveen Prathipati and Aswanth Nune.
Their ages range from 20 to 30, and they are either Indian nationals or Indian Americans. They have pleaded ‘not guilty’ before a federal court situated in Michigan. They had been arrested from Detroit, Florida and Virginia under an operation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The illegal documents that were obtained from them depicted false claims, false statements, as well as fraud. They also created false student records that facilitated the deception of immigration authorities. The nationwide network exploited US immigration laws to gain profits from them.
The University of Farmington allowed the students to work while they got enrolled in it, thereby making it unusual. Students can complete the courses offered by the university from a remote location.
The foreign students were using Farmington University as a ‘pay-to-stay’ scheme. It allowed them to stay in the US because they falsely asserted that they got enrolled in an approved university. Their primary intention was to maintain their student visa status and receive work authorization based on a kind of F-1 visa.
The same is known as Curricular Practical Training program. The arrests have caused a lot of outcry on social media with #AbolishICE on Twitter. The ICE had raided several cities of the United States including Columbus in Ohio, Atlanta in Georgia, Houston in Texas, St. Louis in Missouri, New Jersey and New York.
The Indian Embassy had extended its help by contacting the student organization and the US authorities. It had opened a 24/7 hotline for the arrested students, and the two numbers are 2023221190 and 2023402590.
It is the second time when the Department of Homeland Security has opened a fake university to investigate a fake student visa scandal. The ICE had arrested 21 people for enrolling in a fake University of Northern New Jersey in 2016.