The 130 students detained in the United States for an alleged immigration fraud were aware that they were committing a crime to fraudulently remain in the country, the State Department said, according to PTI. All but one of the students are Indians.

“All participants in this scheme knew that the University of Farmington had no instructors or classes (neither online nor in-person) and were aware they were committing a crime in an attempt to fraudulently remain in the United States,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.

The 130 students were detained last week in what the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement called a “pay-and-stay” scam. The scam involves foreigners who purportedly enrol in fake institutions to falsely maintain their student visa status to allow them to continue to stay in the US. Undercover agents from the Department of Homeland Security had set up the University of Farmington, a fake university, to crack down on the scam.

The State Department’s response came after India issued a demarche to the US Embassy in Delhi on Saturday, raising concern over the detention of Indian students and sought immediate consular access to them.

Law enforcement agencies had also arrested eight people who ran this racket last Monday. They are either Indian citizens or Indian-American. They have pleaded “not guilty” before a federal court in Michigan, PTI reported.

One of them, Phanideep Karnati, who is on an H-1B visa and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, was released on a bond of $10,000 on Monday. The seven others – Barath Kakireddy, Suresh Kandala, Prem Rampeesa, Santosh Sama, Avinash Thakkallapally, Aswanth Nune, and Naveen Prathipati – agreed to continue their detention. The eight were arrested from Detroit, Florida and Virginia.

Karnati’s lawyer, John W Brusstar, told PTI that the entire operation was “choreographed”. He accused the federal government of entrapping people by carrying out such a sting operation.

The eight individuals could face imprisonment up to five years if convicted.

According to the indictment, the eight people arrested last Monday conspired to fraudulently help hundreds of foreigners illegally stay and work in the US by recruiting them to enrol into the University of Farmington between February 2017 and January 2019.

The State Department said instances of fraud schemes are “rare, unfortunate aberrations in the proud history of educational exchange between the United States and India”.

Meanwhile, Indian students who had enrolled at the University of Farmington have begun leaving the US, according to Hindustan Times.