Eight people arrested in US for visa fraud

Fri 01 Feb 2019, 12:30:31
At least eight Telugus were arrested after a four-year-long ‘sting operation’ by the United States Department of Homeland Security to nab foreign students staying in the US without proper authorisation.

According to an indictment (charge-sheet) unsealed by federal authorities in Detroit on Wednesday, “eight people were arrested and indicted in an immigration fraud case for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit”.

Six of them were arrested in Detroit, one in Florida and another in Virginia. The arrested persons were Bharath Kakireddy (29) of Lake Mary, Florida; Suresh Kandala (31) of Culpeper, Virginia; Phanideep Karnati (35) of Louisville, Kentucky; Prem Rampeesa (26) of Charlotte, North Carolina; Santosh Sama (28) of Fremont, California; Avinash Thakkallapally (28) of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Aswanth Nune (26) of Atlanta; and Naveen Prathipati (26) of Dallas.

The students enrolled themselves into a fake university, the University of Farmington, Michigan, with the intent to obtain jobs under a student visa programme called CPT (Curricular Practical Training), which allows students to work in the US, according to US media reports.

The indictment says from February 2017 through January

2019, the defendants “conspired with each other and others to fraudulently facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals in illegally remaining and working in the United States by actively recruiting them to enroll into a metro Detroit private university that, unbeknownst to the conspirators, was operated by Homeland Security Investigation special agents as part of an undercover operation”.

The eight arrested were accused of helping enroll the students in exchange for cash, kickbacks and tuition credits as part of a ‘pay-to-stay’ scheme. Officials were quoted in media reports saying the students involved in this case came to the US legally to study at universities, but later transferred to the University of Farmington after they arrived in order to work.

Meanwhile, the American Telugu Association estimates that about 100 students were arrested and that there several others were facing arrest warrants. The Association said on its Facebook page that it was trying to help affected students and is meeting Indian consular officials in the US about the case. It also urged students to be wary of fake agents who promise illegal ways to stay in the US through admissions in unaccredited colleges and universities.

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