Authorities in the United States arrested eight persons on Wednesday after busting a “pay to stay” visa racket in Detroit, PTI reported. The accused were charged with fraudulently helping at least 600 immigrants to illegally stay on in the country and now face deportation. They are either Indian nationals or Indian-Americans.

Agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted late-night and pre-dawn raids before arresting the eight, who helped foreign nationals to illegally stay on by helping them enroll into a fake university in Detroit called the University of Farmington.

Those arrested were identified as Bharath Kakireddy from Florida, Aswanth Nune from Atlanta, Suresh Reddy Kandala from Virginia, Phanideep Karnati from Kentucky, Prem Kumar Rampeesa from North Carolina, Santosh Reddy Sama from California, Avinash Thakkallapally from Pennsylvania, and Naveen Prathipati from Dallas, the Detroit News reported. All of them are in their late 20s or early 30s.

“These suspects aided hundreds of foreign nationals to remain in the United States illegally by helping to portray them as students, which they most certainly were not,” said Steve Francis, special agent in charge of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations office in Detroit.

The recruiters helped foreign citizens fraudulently obtain immigration documents from the university and helped create fake student records, including transcripts.

The agency also detained hundreds of foreign students affiliated with the university and started the process of their deportation. A “vast majority” of them are Indian nationals, said an unidentified Immigration and Customs Enforcement official.

“As part of this investigation, numerous foreign nationals face administrative immigration violations,” said the official. “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 Indian Embassy in Washington and its consulates have reached out to student organisations and offered assistance. The embassy is also in touch with US authorities.

Fake university used to trap recruiters

The operation to identify those engaged in immigration fraud dates back to 2015, when US undercover agencies set up the fake college to entrap recruiters. Homeland Security agents started posing as university officials in February 2017.

The accused used the university’s name to illegally procure documents for foreign students, most of whom were Indians. They were unaware that the university was fake and operated by federal agents.

“The university was being used by foreign citizens as a ‘pay to stay’ scheme which allowed these individuals to stay in the United States as a result of of foreign citizens falsely asserting that they were enrolled as full-time students in an approved educational program and that they were making normal progress toward completion of the course of study,” said the court indictment.