Students who enrolled at the University of Northern New Jersey weren’t bothered by the college’s lack of a rigorous academic curriculum. Or a lack of professors. Or a lack of classes.
Instead, the more than 1,000 foreign nationals who enrolled at the college were primarily concerned with obtaining fake transcripts and other documentation that would let them remain in the U.S. on student visas.
But while the students and recruiters who connected them with the college knew the enrollments were a racket, they didn’t realize the entire school was a sham.
Federal authorities revealed Tuesday — as they announced the arrests of recruiters involved in the “pay to stay” scheme — that agents working for the Department of Homeland Security set up the school in 2013 as part of a sting operation meant to catch individuals involved in student visa fraud.
The school itself, located in Cranford, New Jersey, was no more than a storefront location with small offices that were staffed by undercover federal agents.
The agents posed as school administrators and accepted deals with recruiters who obtained kickbacks for the students they enrolled. The ruse came complete with a school website that touted a “distinguished faculty,” “exhilarating atmosphere,” and a “high quality American education to students from around the world.”
The sting operation ensnared 21 people who officials say recruited foreign nationals to pay thousands of dollars in order to obtain fraudulent enrollment status at the school so they could extend their student visas and remain here.
Many of those who paid for the fraudulent documents hailed from China and India and were already in the country on student visas, prosecutors said.
The supposed students paid thousands to the recruiters, some of whom billed themselves as “international student counselors,” knowing they would not actually attend any classes or earn any real school credit from their enrollment at the school, according to court documents filed in the case.
The recruiters involved in the scheme were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud, and conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit, prosecutors announced Tuesday. The charges respectively carry penalties of up to five years in prison and up to 10 years in prison.
Homeland Security Investigations and ICE Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit began working Tuesday to terminate the non-immigrant student status of the 1,076 individuals who enrolled at the University of Northern New Jersey and if necessary to begin deportation proceedings.