At least six Indians students have been arrested by the US Department of Homeland Security for committing visa and immigration fraud, which allowed them to stay and work illegally in the country.
The arrests were the result of a two-year long undercover operation in which Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) set up a fake university to probe and identify those indulging in immigration fraud. The HSI charged the six persons with facilitating entry of Indians into the US under the guise of studying on a F1 visa, who actually intended to live and work there illegally without work permits.
An indictment filed in the court of Eastern District of Michigan accused the six assisting at least 600 students “to illegally remain, re-enter and work in the US” and actively recruited them to enrol into a fraudulent school as part of a “pay to stay’’ scheme.
Further, it stated: “Because of their recruiting success, this alliance collectively profited in excess of a quarter of a million dollars.’’
The indictment was filed against Bharath Kakireddy, 29, of Lake Mary in Florida, Suresh Reddy Kandala, 31, of Culpeper, Virginia, Phanideep Karnati, 35, of Louisville, Kentucky, Prem Kumar Rampeesa, 26, of Charlotte, North Carolina, Santosh Reddy Sama, 28, of Fremont, California and Avinash Thakkallapally, 28, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Posing as owners and employees of the University of Farmington, set up in a small building in Farmington Hills in Michigan, HSI agents started investigating the immigration fraud by luring recruiters. The recruiters were promised money for enrolling students. The fake University of Farmington had no staff, no teachers, no students, no curriculum nor were any educational activities conducted.
According to the indictment, the recruiters and students who enrolled and paid tuition fees to the university were fully aware that they will never go to the university to study or attend classes.
“Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorisation under CPT (curricular practical training) programme. Each student knew that the university’s programme was not approved by the US Department of Homeland Security, was illegal,” the indictment stated.
The recruiters enlisted hundreds of Indian students to enrol at the university. The “pay to stay” scheme allowed the Indians to feign that they were full-time students. The recruiters knew that the university was illegal, however, did not know that it was an undercover operation, said the indictment.
In exchange for “enrolling” hundreds of students into the fake university, the recruiters were paid about half a million dollars by the varsity.
After the fake university was set up, the first call was made by Santosh Reddy Sama on February 13, 2017, to an undercover agent relating to enrollment without attending classes so as to maintain his student status. Sama also requested for a reduction in fees for bringing other students to the university. Similarly, Bharath Kakireddy, Avinash Thakkallapally and others started contacting the undercover agents at the university.
On September 14, 2017, Kakireddy went to the university and collected 5$,000 for recruiting students. Similarly two months later, Thakkallapally collected $5,000 and in January 2018, Santosh and Kandala collected $20,000 dollars. On June 8, 2018, they collected another 20,000 dollars and discussed with one undercover agent their efforts to recruit more students.