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ICE Uses Fake Universities to Catch Migrant Students Abusing Optional Practical Training

library-922998_640-300x200In an effort to catch students enrolling in graduate programs after not being selected in the H-1B lottery, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been discreetly operating a number of fake universities targeting these migrant students abusing the system.

Immigration officials have been monitoring universities for students whose only intentions for enrolling in graduate programs is to obtain additional Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Enrolling qualifies them for work authorization and allows them to extend their lawful presence in the U.S despite not being picked in the H-1B lottery.

The standard U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) protocol would be to issue Requests for Evidence (RFE) regarding H petitions of suspect students. USCIS, however, appears to have turned to more drastic enforcement measures, putting up nonexistent universities to entrap students.

The first sting operation of this kind happened in Michigan in 2015. USCIS set up the “University of Farmington,” promising flexible schedules and relatively low tuition fees for both undergraduate and graduate students. This went on until 2017, with immigration agents posing as university officials leading the operation that raked in 130 arrests for civil immigration charges out of over 600 suspect enrollees across the country.

Among these, eight were arrested on conspiracy and harboring charges for pretending to be “recruiters.” These individuals were found to have allegedly assisted immigrants in creating and acquiring what both parties knew were false documents for a price.

Another operation was conducted in 2016, resulting in the arrest of recruiters who brought in foreign students to a nonexistent university called the “University of Northern New Jersey.” The recruiters were taken in for allegedly implementing a “pay to play” scheme.

An attorney representing one of the arrested recruiters claimed that the sting operation that led to their arrests was unfair entrapment. They pointed out that nearly all of those arrested for “recruiting” were Indian nationals – all of whom were lawfully present in the U.S. under valid F student status. The Indian government has been urging for their immediate release.

They also claimed that those arrested in the sting operations were deceived or entrapped. The Farmington prosecution responded to this claim in the indictment, arguing that the migrant students arrested were fully aware that they were involved in illegal activities under the university.

The Trump administration has no plans to make changes to the F-1 Student Visa Program. This, paired with the sting operations and new guidance published last year making it harder for migrant students to avail of OPT and CPT work authorization, has made it clear that the government isn’t keen on expanding the program anytime soon.

If you want to learn more about the F-, J-, and M- visa programs, or need assistance in applying for a H-1B visa, the Lyttle Law Firm is ready to help. Schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle for a full review of your credentials.