The University of Northern New Jersey may be the weirdest school you've never heard of.
Still, it managed to attract more than 1,000 foreign "students" eager to get student or work visas to enter and remain in the U.S.
But now school's out forever. The feds stepped in this week to close the fake university (which they secretly created in 2013 in Cranford, New Jersey) and arrested 21 "brokers, recruiters and employers" who allegedly engaged in fraudulent tactics to help foreigners get the visas.
According to a DOJ press release, the fake school had no teachers, no counselors, no curriculum and offered no classes. It was just an office “staffed with federal agents posing as school administrators.”
But the packaging looked good. The fake college's website, which has since been removed, boasted a “high quality American education to students from around the world.” It even had a Facebook page.
The real purpose of UNNJ was to lure fraudsters into a visa scheme. And it worked. Hundreds of false records and transcripts were made to deceive immigration authorities into giving out real visas. The fake student body, made up mostly of foreign nationals from China and India, reportedly paid to have a chance at the coveted F-1 student and H-1B skilled worker visas. The visa fraudsters, in turn, paid a commission to the undercover feds posing as school administrators to produce bogus school documents and diplomas that made up hundreds of visa applications.
“Some of the so-called students used the visas to get jobs at Facebook and Apple,” one of the law enforcement officials told The New York Times.
The feds are now working to terminate the nonimmigrant status for the foreigners involved in the scheme, and in some cases detaining and deporting those who participated.
The government insists the fake university scandal was not entrapment, because the defendants showed a predisposition to engage in criminal activity.
“As you’ll see in the complaints, the undercover agents specifically told each defendant – in conversations that were secretly recorded – that the university was a sham devised to get immigration status for foreign nationals,” New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said at a press conference on Tuesday.
New Jersey district DOJ spokesperson Will Saggs told Fusion there was no entrapment since the visa fraudsters “sought the services from day one knowing that the services were not legitimate.” He said the 1,000-plus foreigners were also “willing participants” in the scheme.
“There’s a market out there,” he said. “You go to a broker to find that school for you to maintain your student status.”
The sting comes as work visa programs are making soundbites in the 2016 presidential race. Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz’ immigration plan contemplates conducting systematic audits of companies that are suspected of abusing the H-1B visa program and so-called "visa mills." Donald Trump recently said he would like to end the program all together in spite of having hired many H-1B workers.
According to a February 2015 Student Exchange and Visitor Program report there are more than 1 million foreign students using F and M (for vocational and technical schools) visas in the United States.
The U.S government has a yearly cap of 65,000 H-1B visas for foreigners with a bachelor's degree, and uses a “lottery” selection process once the cap is exceeded.