Eight Indians arrested for visa, immigration scam in Detroit

Over 100 students arrested in US immigration fraud attorneys cry foul

Eight Indians arrested for visa, immigration scam in Detroit

Officials were quoted in local media reports saying the students involved in this case had come to the United States legally to study at universities, but then transferred to the University of Farmington after they arrived in order to work.

Eight people who allegedly ran the scam as recruiters of the students face criminal charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit and face maximum sentences of five years, according to the ICE service.

The arrests came to light after the friends and families of the arrested students contacted the American Telugu Association (ATA) who along with their legal team contacted Indian student associations across the country, guiding them on the further actions to take in the matter. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, till Thursday, had arrested 130 students from the fake Farmington University in Greater Detroit area.

It goes on to allege that each student knew the university's programmes were not approved by Homeland Security and that it was illegal.

Those arrested have been identified as Bharath Kakireddy, 29, from Florida, Aswanth Nune, 26, from Atlanta, Suresh Reddy Kandala, 31, from Virginia, Phanideep Karnati, 35, from Kentucky, Prem Kumar Rampeesa, 26, from North Carolina, Santosh Reddy Sama, 28, from California, Avinash Thakkallapally, 28, from Pennsylvania and Naveen Prathipati, 29, from Dallas. They created fake student records and transcripts with the intent of deceiving authorities, the indictment reads. "We are ascertaining more details (through) our embassy in Washington and different consulates in the US.We have also mobilised the Indian community organisations in the US to extend all possible support to the Indian students who are affected by this incident". So the students may have thought it was an authorised university and work programme through a type of F-1 visa known as CPT (Curricular Practical Training).

"Do not worry, we know you can not name them", one agent is said to have told the students.

It also says the students knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits or make academic progress toward an actual degree.

At least 200 of the 600 students enrolled at the fake institution, the University of Farmington in MI state, were also taken into custody in an early morning swoop - "5:00 am and thereabouts" - all over the country, according to a witness account. Some of them were studying elsewhere and switched to Farmington when their course lost accreditation. So they enrolled at the University of Farmington, believing that they could apply their prior credits to the new programme, which seemed to emphasise work experience, he said. Other were doing second masters as looked for speciality work under the B-1B programme, which grants 20,000 visas every year to holders of advanced degrees from U.S. educational institutions.

"Our concern over the dignity and wellbeing of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated", the ministry said.

"The government utilized very questionable and troubling methods to get these foreign students to join the institution", Ravi Mannam, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, told The New York Times. "We are monitoring the situation closely and have impressed upon the U.S. government the need to address the situation at the earliest", the government spokesperson told TOI.

In a sting operation, the US Homeland Security department has detained 100 Indian students and issued warrants for another 600 over alleged immigration rule violations.

The US authorities this week said eight individuals who exploited the country's student visa system had been indicted.

Undercover Homeland Security agents were working as university officials from 2017, tracking down and identifying alleged violators.

Meanwhile, the Indian Embassy here has appointed a nodal officer here to help the students in distress.

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