A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Friday, April 8, 2016

1,000+ Foreign Students Face Sudden Deportation

More than a thousand foreign students face sudden deportation following the closure of a New Jersey university and the prosecution of 21 alleged perpetrators in a "pay to stay" scam busted by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  There is one twist - the college, University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ), was actually created and has been operated by U.S. government officials since September 2013 in Cranford, NJ.

In recent years, federal officials have been actively engaged in investigation and prosecution of educational institutions that engage in visa fraud and other unlawful activities.  Specifically, announcements have been made about several high profile operations in relations to the F-1 student visa program and schools issuing the prerequisite document of the Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for F-1 Student Status).  But this is the first time that the U.S. government actually went as far as establishing its own school to ensnare the perpetrators.

The primary targets of the operation are the most egregious violators in the scam - including 21 brokers, recruiters, and employers that have already been indicted by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Supposedly they are the middlemen that operated recruiting companies that lured students to sign up with the UNNJ.  Allegedly, instead of actually having to take classes like most students do in regular schools, the students at UNNJ would just have to pay tuition without having to attend classes or complete other academic requirements. Many of them enrolled in the schools' Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) programs which allowed them to be employed for an employer.

Now that UNNJ has been closed, what is going to happen to the 1,076 students?  Apparently, they are no longer in valid F-1 student status after the school's closure.  So far, the students are not yet being targeted for criminal prosecution.  It appears that their cases are being reviewed and handled on a case-by-case basis.  Anecdotally, some of them have already been visited and questioned by DHS officials regarding the circumstances of their enrollment with the school.  They are being offered the options of leaving the country on their own or face removal proceedings.  Some other students received formal notices advising that their status has been terminated, and that they could leave the country or try to apply for reinstatement of status. Reinstatement is a formal process that would allow a foreign student to regain their F-1 student status.

Granted, many of these students knew or should have known about the fraudulent scheme and knowingly participated in it.  Some others might have honestly believed that they were just signing up with a legitimate academic program that offered immediate CPT employment.  Foreign students coming from other countries do not necessarily understand the intricacies of the U.S. legal requirements. Yet, some others might have just wanted to save some money, as UNNJ charged substantially less tuition than most other schools.  

Students who truly believe that they did not intentionally participate in the "pay-to-stay" scam should attempt to make their stories known either in removal proceedings, reinstatement applications, or other written communications with the U.S. government.  Even if they have decided to give up their case and depart the country, it would still be important for them to present their side of the story for the record.  If they ever want to re-enter the U.S. this information could help to prevent or reduce any adverse inferences by consular officers in their future visa applications. 

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