Pay-to-stay: US may deport many

Last Updated 31 January 2019, 20:20 IST

Hundreds of Indian students, mostly from the Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, face deportation from the US after the authorities used a fake university in an immigration sting to bust a pay-to-stay racket.

The students were enrolled in the Michigan-based ‘Farmington University’, established by US authorities to catch foreign students who were staying without proper authorisation.

According to an immigration attorney in Detroit, live-streaming on YouTube, the students who may have been enrolled at the university were detained in Houston,
Atlanta, Charlotte and St

The Homeland Security Investigators, who are working on this case since 2015, said eight suspects were arrested who have aided hundreds of foreign nationals to remain in the United States illegally by helping them to act like students.

They said the university was part of a federal law enforcement undercover operation designed to identify recruiters and entities engaged in immigration fraud. The university was staffed with undercover agents working with the Department of Homeland Security.

The indictment papers published in local papers say the university was not staffed with instructors or educators; it had no curriculum, no actual classes. It also says the defendants helped at least 600 “foreign citizens to illegally remain, re-enter and work in the United States and actively recruited them to enroll in a fraudulent school as part of a pay-to-stay scheme”.

The indictments (2015-2019) say 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 HSI (Homeland Security Investigation) special agents as part of an undercover operation”.

Those charged in the indictments were all Telugus — Barath 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 eight defendants charged are accused of helping enroll students in exchange for cash, kickbacks, and tuition credits as part of the pay-to-stay scheme.

“We are in touch with the Indian consulates in different parts to find out how many Telugu students are under detention at different centres who are said be prepared for deportation,” Ashok Kolla, a representative of TANA (Telugu Association of North America), said in a TV interview.

Kolla said that the association will try to help the students to stay in the country “legally” and urged them to get in touch with attorneys for legal help.

The students, if proven guilty, could be barred from entry into the US for some time and might get deported.

(Published 31 January 2019, 19:45 IST)

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