New Jersey University Was Fake, but Visa Fraud Arrests Are Real

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April 5, 2016

Cranford, NEW JERSEY – On the surface, the University of Northern New Jersey seemed legitimate. It had a website, with a seal featuring the Latin words “Humanus, Scientia, Integritas,” a list of business-oriented degrees offered and a promise of “an exceptional educational experience.”

April 5, 2016

Cranford, NEW JERSEY – On the surface, the University of Northern New Jersey seemed legitimate. It had a website, with a seal featuring the Latin words “Humanus, Scientia, Integritas,” a list of business-oriented degrees offered and a promise of “an exceptional educational experience.”

The office building in Cranford, N.J., that was listed as the address of the University of Northern New Jersey.

It was so exceptional it did not exist.

Instead, the university was a fake, set up by the Homeland Security Department in 2012 as part of a sting operation to ensnare criminals involved in student visa fraud.

On Tuesday, that operation resulted in the issuing of arrest warrants for 21 people in the New York metropolitan area, the United States attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, and Sarah Saldaña, the director of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announced at a news conference in Newark.

The people arrested were brokers who knowingly recruited foreign students, mainly from China and India, to an institution that would not have real classes in order to obtain student visas. The brokers, working with people posing as university officials, charged the students fees in a scheme that allowed the students to stay in the country. They also arranged for jobs, and some of these employers were also issued warrants for arrest.

Some brokers received commissions from the undercover officials worth $1,200 to $2,000 on average for each student they recruited, an ICE representative said. As part of the sting operation, other brokers received kickbacks for placing students in jobs.

Some of those arrested include legal permanent residents and naturalized citizens, said a Homeland Security official who is familiar with the investigation. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the arrests were continuing on Tuesday morning.

The University of Northern New Jersey, established in 2012 with the address of an office building in Cranford, N.J., may have been billed as an institution of higher learning, but no learning went on. It purported to offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in areas like accounting, marketing and health care management. To lure unsuspecting recruiters, it was listed as state-licensed and certified by the Homeland Security Department. But there were no classes, no faculty members and no degrees over the last three years.

Several hundred “students” who knowingly enrolled for at least 45 days at the university will shortly be receiving notices to appear in immigration court, the government said. After gaining entry into the United States, many did not stay in the New York metropolitan area, but lived and worked throughout the country, officials said.

About 1.2 million students are currently in the United States on student visas, a majority of whom are legitimately attending universities, government officials said.

There have been several high-profile student visa fraud cases in recent years from California to New York, which represent a security concern for a government under pressure to screen visa applicants for possible terrorism ties.

The most prominent arrest in the case of sham universities, also known as visa mills, was in 2011. Susan Xiao-Ping Su, the founder of Tri-Valley University, in Northern California, was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The university had offered classes in engineering and medicine, but did not require that students attend them. More than 1,500 students, mostly from India, were affected, and not all knew that they were being defrauded.

In January Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, sentenced three executives of Micropower Career Institute, a for-profit college with five locations in the New York City-New Jersey area, for visa fraud. Among other offenses, the executives took $7.4 million from foreign students in exchange for visas, prosecutors said.

In 2012, a Government Accountability Office report faulted Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not providing enough control in the verification process of institutions and applicants under the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. Officials with ICE said it had since been trying to tighten its accreditation protocols.

This sting operation, the government said, was a way to understand the extent of the criminal network behind visa fraud, including how students are recruited abroad, how fake universities work and what happens after the students arrive in the United States.

The Facebook page of the University of Northern New Jersey last had a post on March 5, announcing the school would be closed until March 18 for spring break. Earlier posts included pictures of students — some wearing “Badgers” T-shirts — against the same plain gray wall with the school seal and the letters U.N.N.J. On the university’s website, a note from the supposed president, Steven Brunetti, offered platitudes about the education offered at the university.

“As you explore U.N.N.J.,” the president’s note said, “I am confident that you will uncover all of the priceless opportunities an education from U.N.N.J. will provide you for your future.”


Courtesy: NY Times