Emails revealed this week show how the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) set up a fictitious school called the “University of Farmington” to detect student visa fraud.
The “university,” which began “admitting” applicants in 2015, involved a total of at least 600 students.
On Jan. 30, the sting operation was disclosed to the public, including the arrest of eight Indian recruiters who were charged of faking visas and harboring aliens for profit.
Additionally, a total of 146 students were arrested — 145 Indians and one Palestinian.
This week, emails obtained by the Detroit Free Press show how federal agents posing as school officials had lured students into enrolling at the university, which charged yearly undergraduate fees of $8,500.
“It was a pleasure speaking with you,” an official who identified as “Ali Milani” wrote to one student in June 2017. “Thank you for your recent interest in The University of Farmington, a nationally accredited business and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) institution.”
“Here at the University of Farmington we have created an innovative learning environment that combines traditional instruction with full-time professional experiences. We offer flexible class schedules and a focus on students who do not want to interrupt their careers.”
At the bottom of the email, the university was described as “a nationally accredited institution authorized to enroll international students by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
Milani, who identified as Farmington’s president, explained that the university operates on a “quarterly academic calendar” that begins every September, December, March, and June.
The student, who was applying for graduate school, was informed that graduate programs cost $2,500 per quarter.
Milani also attached a two-paged application form in the email, which required a $100 application fee.
“If you are interested in having your tomorrow start today, please complete the attached application and submit a copy of your passport and current visa,” the official wrote. “Good luck in all your endeavors.”
The student immediately processed his application and received an acceptance email the following day, which included his “admission letter along with the international student checklist and SEVIS transfer form.” ICE runs the SEVIS, or Student and Exchange Visitor Program, for students on F-1 visas.
The following week, the student sought to defer admission until December. And by October, he asked Milani to transfer his SEVIS “today” as his OPT, or Optional Practical Training — a program that allows him to work while on an F-1 student visa — is about to expire.
The disclosure of the scam prompted India, home of the majority of the arrested students, to release a démarche asking for their release and requesting against any non-voluntary deportation.
A number of students were released following the intervention of the Indian consulate, which has since opened a hotline for queries and assistance related to the scam.
24X7 Helpline for Indian Students @meaindia @CGI_Atlanta @IndiainChicago @cgihou @IndiainNewYork @CGISFO @harshvshringla @HarshShringla pic.twitter.com/qd2gCqVR0l
— India in USA (@IndianEmbassyUS) February 1, 2019
This is not the first time the U.S. government orchestrated a fake university to crack down fraudulent visas. In 2016, agents from the Department of Homeland Security — which oversees ICE — created the fake University of Northern New Jersey to charge 21 people with student and work visa fraud, the Detroit News noted.