Two Township Residents Caught In Federal ‘Pay To Stay’ Visa Sting

Two township residents were among 21 people from five states arrested April 5 on charges they conspired to fraudulently maintain student visas for more than 1,000 foreign nationals.

Jyoti Patel, 34, of Franklin Park and Harpreet Sachdeva, 35, of Somerset were each charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Patel and Sachdiva were arrested by agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations. Other defendants in the so-called “pay to stay” scheme were arrested in New York, California, Illinois and Georgia, according to the release.

The defendants, all of whom are brokers, recruiters and employers were caught as a result of a sting operation set up by ICE, in which they created a fictional college in New Jersey called University of Northern New Jersey, located in Cranford. The 21 defendants allegedly attempted to enroll foreign nationals as students in the fake university, all the while knowing that the “students” would not attend a class or graduate, according to the release.

The fake university existed as a storefront with federal agents posing as administrators, according to the release.

UNNJ advertised itself as able to issue a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – for
Academic and Language Students.” The document enables a student to obtain an F-1 student visa, which allows the student to enter and remain in the United States while matriculating to a college degree.

The defendants enabled about 1,076 foreign nationals to fraudulently maintain their status and stay in the country, according to the release.

The defendants also paid thousands of dollars in “commissions” to UNNJ “administrators” in return for their participation in the scheme according to the release.

The defendants also used UNNJ administrators to fraudulently obtain work visas for their clients, asserting the the clients would work in the university’s IT department when that was not the case, according to the release.

“‘Pay to Stay’ schemes not only damage our perception of legitimate student and foreign worker visa programs, they also pose a very real threat to national security,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said in the release. “Today’s arrests, which were made possible by the great undercover work of our law enforcement partners, stopped 21 brokers, recruiters and employers across multiple states who recklessly exploited our immigration system for financial gain.”

Conspiracy to commit visa fraud carries a potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens carries a penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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