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The University of Farmington in Michigan, US, has a run-of-the-mill website, offers bachelors and masters courses in science and business administration, charges tuition of USD 2,000 to 2,500 every quarter, and most importantly – it doesn’t exist. Hundreds of Indians living in the US face deportation, a further ban on entering into the country, and even arrest, because of a massive operation conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where they created a fake university by the name of University of Farmington – with the sole aim of trapping immigration agents and illegal immigrants, who were extending their stay in America on the pretext of being students. While eight agents, almost all of them from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, have been arrested so far, at least 600 ‘students’ of the university are under the scanner – and most of them are Indians. These are people who entered the US on a valid student visa, but decided to extend their stay illegally, according to reports.
In an elaborate plan laid over three years, officials from the United States Homeland Security have arrested eight Indian origin student recruiters, and hundreds of others are being called in for questioning after it was found that the students were staying in the country illegally with the help of recruiters. These are people who were working in the US under an F-1 visa – a type of non-immigrant student visa that allows foreigners to pursue education in the United States. However, while they were on student visas, they were allegedly working in the country through a work-study program called Curriculum Practical Training, instead of studying.
As part of the sting operation, the agents had created a fake university based in Farmington Hills, Michigan. The recruiters did not know they were part of such a plan to lure in the students.
Officials are currently investigating those who are enrolled as students in the fake university. One student has allegedly been let off as she had already booked a ticket back to India prior to being questioned.
Recruiters who have been arrested have been identified as: Bharath Kakireddy (29) from Lake Mary, Florida; Aswanth Nune (26) from Atlanta; Suresh Reddy Kandala (31) from Culpeper, Virginia; Phanideep Karnati (35) from Louisville, Kentucky; Prem Kumar Rampeesa (26) from Charlotte, North Carolina; Santosh Reddy Sama (28) from Fremont, California; Avinash Thakkallapally (28) from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Naveen Prathipati (29) from Dallas.
“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,” The Detroit News quoted Steve Francis, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations office in Detroit as saying.
“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,” said US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider.
The University of Farmington was a fake university created in 2015 in an operation termed “Paper Chase” which was designed by Homeland Security agents to track down and arrest recruiters and others who were working to help foreign students stay in the country illegally. A simple google search reveals an official page to the college which states it has been in place since 1950. The university offered just one class per semester, and had just two rooms, according to some reports. Beginning in February 2017, Homeland Security agents began posing as officials of the university.
Federal agents made up an elaborate plan, setting up a website for the university, which stated, “Located in the heart of the automotive and advanced manufacturing center of Southeast Michigan, the University of Farmington provides students from throughout the world a unique educational experience. Our dynamic business administration and STEM curriculum allows students to rapidly apply their knowledge; preparing them to succeed in an ever-globalising economy.”
It was found that the foreign students who were present in the country, were using proof of having a student F-1 visa, obtained via enrolling in the university to get a Day 1 CPT (Curricular Practical Training). The CPT allowed students on the F-1 visa to be able to obtain a part-time job, which then paved the way for them to continue staying in the country.
The university was being used by foreign citizens as a ‘pay to stay’ scheme which allowed these individuals to stay in the United States as a result of of foreign citizens falsely asserting that they were enrolled as full-time students in an approved educational program and that they were making normal progress toward completion of the course of study,” the indictment reportedly states.