129 Indian Students Detained After 'Pay To Stay' Visa Racket Busted in US, Indian Embassy Opens Hotline
Representational Image (Photo Credits: Facebook)

Washington, February 2: As many as 129 Indian students have been detained in the United States after authorities busted a “pay to stay” visa racket and arrested eight persons for facilitating illegal stay to at least 600 immigrants. Following the detention of Indian students, who now face deportation, the Indian embassy in the US has opened a 24/7 hotline to assist them. The Ministry of External Affairs, headed by Sushma Swaraj, is monitoring the situation closely.

In a bid to expose immigration fraud, special agents of the Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) ran an undercover operation by secretly operating a fake university in Farmington Hills in Metro Detroit. According to the indictment, the eight accused conspired with each other to fraudulently facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals in illegally remaining and working in the US by actively recruiting them to enrol into the university. Indian-American CEO Arrested in Silicon Valley Over H1B Visa Fraud.

In late-night and pre-dawn raids, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested Barath Kakireddy, Suresh Kandala, Phanideep Karnati, Prem Rampeesa, Santosh Sama, Avinash Thakkallapally, Aswanth Nune, and Naveen Prathipati. All of them are either Indian nationals or Indian Americans. Six of them were arrested in Detroit area while the other two in Virginia and Florida.

According to an indictment unsealed in a local court on Wednesday, the accused allegedly helped at least 600 foreign nationals stay in the US illegally by enrolling them into fake universities. “As part of this investigation, numerous foreign nationals face administrative immigration violations. Those individuals will be placed in removal proceedings, and ICE will seek to maintain them in its custody pending the outcome of those proceedings,” the ICE official told PTI. Indian Man Travelled 11 Countries Illegally Over a Month to Enter US, Deported & Arrested.

The indictment said the accused helped several foreign citizen “students” in fraudulently obtaining immigration documents from the school for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities. Those who were enrolled in universities had no intention to attend classes and were not bona fide students. These "students" were aware of the fact that the school had no instructors or actual classes, the ICE said.

“We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa programme can also be exploited and abused,” stated US Attorney Matthew Schneider. “Homeland Security Investigations special agents uncovered a nationwide network that grossly exploited US immigration laws,” said Special Agent Charge Francis.

“We are aware of this incident. We are ascertaining more details (through) our embassy in Washington and different consulates in the US,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in New Delhi. “We are getting in touch with the concerned US authorities to extend consular assistance to the people who have been affected. 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,” he added.

This is the second such case when the Department of Homeland Security has used a fake university to unearth a fake student visa racket. In 2016, the ICE had arrested some 21 people for similar charges for a fake University of Northern New Jersey. (With agency inputs)