NY Couple Pays $1 Million Penalty in Immigration Fraud Scheme Involving Philippine H-1B Nurses

Posted: 3:01 am ET

Via USDOJ/Vermont:

New York Lawyer and Wife Pay $1 Million Following Conviction on Immigration Fraud Scheme

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced today that Loreto Kudera, age 45, and Hazel Kudera, age 43, a married couple from New York, New York, who have pleaded guilty to an immigration fraud scheme, have paid the final installment of their $1 million forfeiture penalty representing ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

On June 9, 2016, the Kuderas pleaded guilty to charges that they conspired to commit immigration fraud. According to the public record, Hazel Kudera owns several medical staffing agencies in New York specializing in providing nursing professionals to hospitals, outpatient and skilled nursing facilities. She and her husband, Loreto Kudera, then a lawyer at the Law Offices of Barry Silberzweig, in New York, New York, provided false and fraudulent information to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in St. Albans, Vermont when applying for  for foreign nurses.

The H-1B visa program permits an employer to petition on a behalf of a foreign national beneficiary to enter the United States for the specific purpose of working for the employer in a specialty occupation. There are a limited number of H-1B visas available each year, and the purpose of the program is to ensure that these visas go to legitimate beneficiaries to fill specialty positions from a qualified work force. Working as a general RN or LPN is not considered a specialty occupation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Knowing this, Hazel Kudera and Loreta Kudera falsely stated that these foreign nurses, mostly from the Philippines, would be working in specialty occupations at prevailing wage rates when, in fact, they were going to work as LPNs or RNs at much lower rates, mostly at nursing homes. Hazel Kudera and Loreto Kudera profited from this scheme from the filing fees they collected from the beneficiaries as well as from the health care facilities which were paying fees to the medical staffing agencies owned by Hazel Kudera. The Kuderas admitted that they submitted 100 or more fraudulent petitions as part of their scheme. As a result of their convictions, the Kuderas agreed to forfeit $1,000,000 in illegal proceeds to the United States.

The Kuderas are scheduled to be sentenced on September 28, 2016. The maximum penalties for their conviction are five years of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, or a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of gross gain, whichever is greater. The sentence will be advised by the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The United States Attorney commended the investigative efforts of the United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, the United States Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud, and the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, in Boston, Massachusetts, who jointly spearheaded the investigation. The United States Attorney also wishes to thank the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, Security Fraud Division, at the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, Vermont for their assistance with the investigation.

The original announcement is available here.

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US Embassy Tashkent: OIG Report Plus What’s This About “Fun Community Policing”?

Posted: 3:13 am ET

 

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan is a medium size post with a complement of 408 authorized staff which includes foreign national employees, locally hired Americans and 64 direct-hire Americans.  State/OIG released its inspection report of  US Embassy Tashkent last April. Given that the inspection in 2008 was a limited scope review– with focus on major areas of interest rather than examining all the items covered in a traditional inspection — it is surprising that the 2016 report, a traditional inspection conducted after 7 years  is only 4 pages longer than the 2008 report.  There are no discussion about morale (excerpt that bit about nepotism as being bad for morale), or spouse employment (no spouses looking for jobs?), or schools (no dependents go to school there?). What about the embassy Health Unit? Is it good, bad, non-existent?

Summary of Findings:

  • The Ambassador steers the United States-Uzbekistan engagement in constructive ways, including the signing of agreements on counter-narcotics and the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
  •   Washington end-users uniformly expressed satisfaction with Political/Economic Section reporting that provides the information needed to understand the United States- Uzbekistan relationship.
  •   American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
  •   The Consular Section did not comply with non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards, visa referral management and referral procedures, and consular management control requirements.
  •   The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has not addressed the seismic risk by identifying suitable housing with the lowest possible risk to life safety as required by 15 Foreign Affairs Manual 252.6. The embassy has taken steps to prepare its staff for the aftermath of a major earthquake.
  •   The embassy’s social media outreach is limited by its reliance on English, rather than Russian- and Uzbek- language material.
  •   The reporting and supervisory relationships among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regional office, its locally employed staff, the Political/Economic Section, and the Front Office are unresolved and contentious.
  •   Innovative Practice: The embassy produced a no-cost and reliable short message service for employees.

The IG report also includes a section labeled “Tashkent Initiative Worthy of Emulation” which is rather underwhelming. Like  —  we have totally not/not seen this set of activities done elsewhere before! Dear OIG inspection team, c’mon folks — really? Where have you been all this time?

Screen Shot 2016-07-06

 

Excerpts:

American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
[…]
The Ambassador is aware of her chief of mission responsibilities in accordance with 2 FAM 022.7. She expressed support for internal controls, reminding the staff that fraud and misconduct cannot be tolerated, and reissuing management notices concerning illegal currency exchange and gift acceptance. The embassy has made it clear that action will be taken in accordance with regulations against those who cannot meet ethical standards. In the 14 months prior to the inspection, seven locally employed staff members were dismissed for misconduct or unethical behavior.

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct | American and locally employed embassy staff members told OIG of the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in diverse views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (l) 1214. In mission-wide town hall meetings and other fora, the Ambassador has stressed the five values she wants the Mission to exemplify: gratitude, teamwork, partnership, opportunity, and balance.

Lack of a Representation Plan and Uneven Spending | Embassy Tashkent expended approximately $13,000 of its $21,418 in FY 2015 representational funding in the last 2 weeks of the fiscal year.

Interagency Working Groups Not Active | Embassy interagency working groups met infrequently, if at all, reducing their effectiveness in coordinating U.S. Government programs and policies across agencies. Embassy officers told OIG that informal exchanges of information within the mission were sufficient. Chiefs of Mission are charged under 18 FAM 005.1-6b and 18 FAM 005.1-7f with promoting a culture of interagency problem solving and leveraging a wide range of U.S. Government specialized expertise and assets under common objectives. The Law Enforcement Working Group did not meet during FY 2015. Implementation of end-use monitoring for $49.6 million in armored vehicles was not coordinated among embassy offices that could benefit through their participation.

Relationship between Embassy and CDC Office Needs Improvement | The reporting and supervisory relationships among the CDC regional office at U.S. Consulate General Almaty and Embassy Tashkent’s CDC locally employed staff, Political/Economic Section, and Front Office are unresolved and contentious.

Embassy Does Not Use Record Emails | Embassy Tashkent and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs exchange daily official- informal emails but never use record emails,as required in 5 FAM 443.2, even when the exchanges contain information that facilitates decision making and document policy formulation and execution. The embassy Front Office and the Political/Economic Section report that the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART), which is meant to record and retain record emails, is too cumbersome to use. Only the Consular Section uses record emails when sending reports on child abductions. Failure to use the SMART system hinders the Department’s ability to retain and retrieve records, as required by the Federal Records Act.

Political/Economic File Management Not in Accordance with Department and Federal Regulations | Embassy Tashkent does not enforce Department and Federal regulations on records management. The Political/Economic Section does not maintain centralized files. Officers have individual files based on their own filing systems that are maintained in personal folders. As a result, these files are not accessible to others and are not archived, retired, or readily retrievable if the action officer is absent or transfers.

Social Media Outreach in English, Not in the Languages of the Host Country | The embassy’s social media outreach is hampered by its lack of Russian- and Uzbek-language material and its reliance on English. Russian media is understandably pervasive in Uzbekistan. A 2010 survey conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found that 90 percent of the population spoke Uzbek and 57–70 percent spoke Russian. English is the main compulsory foreign language taught in schools, but only 1 percent of respondents to a survey of students, teachers, professors, and bureaucrats use and read English. However, as of October, 92 percent of embassy tweets and 100 percent of ambassadorial tweets sent in 2015 were in English, as were the majority of Facebook entries. Embassy officials said that a strategic decision had been made in the past to offer the embassy’s Facebook and other social media in English.

Non-Compliance with Consular Management Controls | In five areas, the embassy does not comply with management control requirements for overseas posts, as delineated in 7 FAH-1 H-630-660, “Consular Management Controls.” The FAH requires an Accountable Consular Officer (ACO), a Consular Systems Administrator (CSA), and a back-up for each.

Visa Referral Program Not Compliant with Visa Referral Systems Policy | The embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures in the Worldwide Non-Immigrant Visa Referral Policy as described in 9 FAM Appendix K “Visa Referral Systems.” OIG found referral form or data entry errors in 39 (45 percent) of the 86 visa referral cases adjudicated in FY 2015. In 58 cases (67 percent), the case notes did not document properly the validity of the referral or the adjudicating officer’s decision. FAST officers adjudicated a total of 41 referral cases, including 33 cases that should have been adjudicated by the Consular Section Chief. The section’s annual validation study on 2014 referrals was 4 months overdue. These errors occurred because the embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures. A non-compliant referral program inhibits the ability to identify individual instances or patterns of fraud or abuse.

Visa Adjudication Reviews are Not Compliant with Standards | The embassy does not comply with the non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards in 9 FAM 41.113 PN17 (Review of Visa Issuances) and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7 (Internal Review of Refusals), which require that reviews be performed on the day of issuance or refusal, or as soon as possible thereafter. OIG examined FY 2015 adjudications through September 20, 2015. The adjudication reviews of visa issuances did not meet the review standards for 73 percent of the 219 work days on which visas were issued and for 76 percent of the 184 work days on which visas were refused. The Regional Consular Officer based in Frankfurt reported to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the embassy that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between December 12, 2014, and May 26, 2015. OIG found that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between July 2, 2015, and September 20, 2015. Systematic, regular reviews of non-immigrant visa adjudications are an important management and instructional tool to maintain the highest professional standards of adjudications. Such reviews also ensure uniform and correct application of law and regulations and enhance U.S. border security. Absent such reviews, adjudicator training and uniformity of adjudications can be irregular and border security compromised.

Seismic Studies of Embassy Housing | Embassy personnel occupy eight residences that received seismic hazard rating of “Very Poor” and eight residences that received seismic ratings of “Poor” in a 2012 Bureau of Overseas Operations (OBO) study. Embassy personnel occupy 38 (of a total of 54) residences that have not been evaluated for seismic adequacy, as required by 15 FAM 252.6. Tashkent is located in an active seismic zone. An earthquake almost completely destroyed the city in 1966. The OBO Natural Hazard program categorizes Tashkent as has having a “very high” seismic risk. In accordance with 15 FAM 252.6d, embassies in high-risk seismic areas must address the seismic adequacy of residential units and seek housing that is the best suited for high-risk seismic areas. OBO has not addressed the findings of the 2012 study to reduce the seismic risk of the housing pool.

Read the whole report here: Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF).

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A separate but related note, we received the following email in our inbox:

Uzbekistan not only has a politically repressive government but a one with a poor understanding of market economics. Uzbekistan pegs its currency, the soum, to the dollar resulting in a currency black market. While the official exchange rate is 3000 soum to a dollar, in reality it’s closer to 6500 and the gap keeps growing. Local prices of course reflect the black market rate.

The Embassy has decided to not allow American staff to use the exchange rate citing some sort of regulation. Not only that, but after a letter from the host government urging diplomats to use the official exchange rate, the ambassador asked the FMO [financial management officer] to monitor cashier withdrawals of employees to ensure they are not using the black market rate.

Fun community policing! Very Uzbek in style!

Well, there is indeed “some sort of regulation” on this.

According to the FAH, the Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary. Here’s the cite:

4 FAH-3 H-361.3-2  Compliance With Laws and Regulations
(CT:FMP-82;   09-04-2013)

Whenever accommodation exchange services are established, the Chief of Mission or designee takes actions necessary to assure that all accommodation exchange is performed in full compliance with U.S. Government and host government laws and regulations; and that all American Government personnel are familiar with the provisions in 3 FAM 4123 and 22 CFR 1203.735-206, Economic and Financial Activities of Employees Abroad.  The Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary in order to assure full compliance.

See more here.

Note that 3 FAM 4123.1 specifically prohibits a U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member from engaging in “transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission.”

3 FAM 4123.1  Prohibitions in Any Foreign Country
(TL:PER-491;   12-23-2003)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Foreign Service National, and Civil Service)

A U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member is prohibited from engaging in the following activities while present in any foreign country:

(1)  Speculation in currency exchange;

(2)  Transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission;

(3)  Sales to unauthorized persons (whether at cost or for profit) of currency acquired at preferential rates through diplomatic or other restricted arrangements;

(4)  Transactions which entail the use of the diplomatic pouch or other official mail without official authorization;

(5)  Transfers of blocked funds in violation of U.S. foreign funds and assets control;

(6)  Independent and unsanctioned private transactions which involve an employee as an individual in violation of applicable currency control regulations of the foreign government; and

(7)  Except as part of official duties, acting as an intermediary in the transfer of private funds from persons in one country to persons in another country, including the United States.

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Related items:

OIG Limited Scope Review – US Embassy Uzbekistan 2008 (PDF)

Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF)

 

US Embassy Venezuela: Appointment Wait Time For Visas Now at 999 Days

Posted: 1:41 am ET

Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced that it is no longer able to provide new appointments for first-time business or tourist (B-1/B-2) visa applicants due to staff shortages. Apparently, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for Embassy personnel.  So, there you go.  Limited numbers of appointments are available for other temporary visas, and immigrant visas will continue to be processed but Venezuelans interested in visiting or conducting business in the United States will have to review their plans given the length of the wait time to get a visa appointment. Below is an excerpt from the embassy announcement:

If you are applying for a renewal of your valid U.S. visa or are a first-time applicant for any of the petition-based, student, or investor visas (E, F, J, M, H, I, L, O, P, Q, R, T, U), limited numbers of appointments for those visa types will be made available.  Unfortunately, due to limited staff, wait times for these appointments will be much longer than in the past. During this time, we continue to offer appointments for immigrant visa applicants as these cases become ready for interview.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for U.S. Embassy personnel, resulting in staff shortages throughout the Embassy and also preventing visits by technicians to maintain, upgrade and repair our consular computer systems.  For many months, we have not had sufficient embassy personnel to handle the existing workload in Venezuela and, despite our best efforts, large backlogs of visa applications have accumulated.  Once the Foreign Ministry resumes issuing visas for U.S. diplomatic personnel, and those staff members are able to start working, we will begin to restore full visa services to the Venezuelan public.  We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to maintain our previous high standard of service to the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens who visit the U.S. Embassy in Caracas each year.  We ask for your understanding and cooperation as we all work to overcome the many challenges during the current difficult times.

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Visa Fraudsters Who Recruited H-1B workers For the “Bench” Get 87 Months in Federal Prison

Posted: 3:35 am ET

Via DOJ/Northern District of Texas:

Atul and Jay Nanda Used Their Corporation, Dibon Solutions in Carrollton, Texas, to Commit Fraud Through H-1B Visa Program to Create a Low-Cost Workforce

DALLAS — Two brothers who were convicted at trial in November 2015 on felony offenses stemming from a conspiracy they ran to commit visa fraud to secure a low-cost workforce at their information technology consulting company headquartered in Carrollton, Texas, were sentenced today to lengthy federal prison terms, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Atul Nanda, 46, and his brother, Jiten “Jay” Nanda, 45, were each sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn to 87 months in federal prison.  Each was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, one count of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, and four counts of wire fraud.  The brothers, who have been on bond, were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Dibon Solutions is an information technology consulting company located on Chenault Drive in Carrollton; it is a family operation created by the Nanda family.  Atul and Jiten Nanda created, established, and ran the corporation that they used to commit fraud through the H1-B visa program.

“The H-1B visa program is a powerful and positive tool for businesses and foreign workers alike when properly used,” said U.S. Attorney Parker.  “When employers abuse the program, however, the foreign workers become a captive stable of cheap labor, victimized to the company’s financial benefit.”

“This federal investigation uncovered Dibon’s deeply rooted conspiracy of maximizing its profits at all costs,” said Katrina W. Berger, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Dallas.  “These two brothers created a highly profitable, and highly illegal business model at the extreme expense of the alien workforce that they recruited.  In addition, this same illegal business model operated at an unfair advantage to Dibon’s competition since it had a much lower operating overhead.”

The H-1B visa program allows businesses in the U.S., such as Dibon, to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialized or technical expertise in a particular field such as accounting, engineering, or computer science.

The Nanda brothers recruited foreign workers with expertise who wanted to work in the U.S.  They sponsored the workers’ H-1B visa with the stated purpose of working at Dibon headquarters in Carrolton, but, in fact, did not have an actual position at the time they were recruited and knew the workers would ultimately provide consulting services to third-party companies located throughout the U.S.  Contrary to representations made by the conspirators to the workers (and the government), Jay and Atul Nanda directed that the workers only be paid for time spent working at a third-party company and only if the third-party company actually first paid Dibon for the workers’ services.  Additionally, in Dibon’s visa paperwork, the conspirators falsely represented that the workers had full-time positions and were paid an annual salary, as required by regulation to secure the visas.

This scheme provided the conspirators with a labor pool of inexpensive, skilled foreign workers who could be used on an “as needed” basis.  The scheme was profitable because it required minimal overhead and Dibon could charge significant hourly rates for a computer consultant’s services.  Thus, the Nandas, as Dibon’s owners, earned a substantial profit margin when a consultant was assigned to a project and incurred few costs when a worker was without billable work.  This scheme is known as “benching.”  Dibon actively recruited H-1B workers for the “bench.”

The Nandas required the H-1B visa candidates to pay the processing fees that the law requires to be paid by the company. The Nandas attempted to hide this, however, by having the H-1B candidates pay the fees directly to Dibon either with cash or a check written to “Dibon Training Center.”

The three other defendants charged in the case, Siva Sugavanam, 37, Vivek Sharma, 48, and Rohit Mehra, 39, who each pleaded guilty before trial to one count of aiding and abetting visa fraud, were each sentenced earlier this month by Judge Lynn to two years’ probation.  Sugavanam was the lead recruiter for Dibon; Sharma acted as Dibon’s office manager; and Mehra recruited employees for the bench and transported benched employees to and from Dibon Headquarters.  All three had knowledge of and/or involvement in the filing of false documents with the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in securing recruits’ employment with Dibon.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HSI and the U.S. Department of State.

Original announcement is posted here.

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Burn Bag: We aren’t even trying to hide this stuff anymore? Bwaaah!

Via Burn Bag:

Job Title:    Visa Analyst    
Job Category:     Non-Exempt
Location:    Washington, DC    
Travel:    N/A
Level/Salary Range:    NEGOTIABLE    
Position Type:    Full Time
Date posted:    April 29, 2016

Job Description: Summary: Immediate full time requirement – CA/VO Visa Analyst – in support of the U.S. Department of State (DOS), Counselor Affairs/Visa Office. Final Top Secret Security Clearance required and candidate must meet eligibility criteria to be granted access to Sensitive Compartmented Information when/if required. The Visa Analyst provides support to the Government staff and prepares letters, reports, and specialized correspondence. A Government manager will provide day-to-day oversight and direction.   

“We aren’t even trying to hide anymore that we plan to supervise the employees of third party contractors [TPCs].  This insidious practice ultimately denies opportunities to government employees who miss out on training and conference experiences when the employees of third party contractors attend instead.  Why do we offer training to these employees of TPCs when they were supposed to already be trained?”

plsmakeitstop

Via media.riffsy.com

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WaPo: New Afghan Trail to the West Goes Through Cuba?

Posted: 3:40 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

Over the past two months, travel agents in Kabul have been surprised by Afghans showing up at their offices with Cuban visas, which are suspected of having been issued in Iran or acquired on the black market.

“Ten or 15 people have come just since January asking for tickets for Cuba,” Sayeedi said. “And they are not staying there. The only option is to move forward, probably on to Mexico and then America or Canada.”

Other agents in Kabul also report a spike in interest in Cuba, and U.N. officials in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz say they recently encountered a family with Cuban visas. Havana has been a way station in the past for South Asians hoping to transit to Central America and from there to the United States.

Besides Cuba, some Afghans are attempting to land in South America, either to seek residency there or make the trip north toward the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read more:

 

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Fake University Sting Nets 21Alleged #Visa Fraudsters and 1,076 Foreign Individuals in “Pay to Stay” Scheme

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

The State Department issued 278,992 F-1 visas to students from China and 77,375 F-1 visas to students from India in FY2015 alone.  It’s a good thing that DHS is going after visa brokers, recruiters, and employers who allegedly conspired with more than 1,000 foreign nationals in a “pay to stay” scheme that circumvents U.S. immigration laws but — we suspect that this is a tiny drop in a bucket.

Via USDOJ:

21 Defendants Charged With Fraudulently Enabling Hundreds Of Foreign Nationals To Remain In The United States Through Fake ‘Pay To Stay’ New Jersey College

“College” created as part of Homeland Security Investigations sting operation 

NEWARK, N.J. – Twenty-one brokers, recruiters, and employers from across the United States who allegedly conspired with more than 1,000 foreign nationals to fraudulently maintain student visas and obtain foreign worker visas through a “pay to stay” New Jersey college were arrested this morning by federal agents, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

The defendants (see chart below) were arrested in New Jersey and Washington by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and charged in 14 complaints with conspiracy to commit visa fraud, conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit, and other offenses. All the defendants, with the exception of Yanjun Lin, will appear today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven C. Mannion in Newark federal court.  Lin will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen L. Strombom in the Western District of Washington federal court.

“‘Pay to Stay’ schemes not only damage our perception of legitimate student and foreign worker visa programs, they also pose a very real threat to national security,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “Today’s arrests, which were made possible by the great undercover work of our law enforcement partners, stopped 21 brokers, recruiters and employers across multiple states who recklessly exploited our immigration system for financial gain.”

“While the United States fully supports international education, we will vigorously investigate those who seek to exploit the U.S. immigration system,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “As a result of this operation, HSI special agents have successfully identified and shut down multiple operations which have abused the student visa program.”

“Individuals engaged in schemes that would undermine the remarkable educational opportunities afforded to international students represent an affront to those who play by the rules. These unscrupulous individuals undermine the integrity of the immigration system,” said ICE Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola. “Our special agents are committed to addressing, identifying fraud in order to better protect the system as a whole.”

According to the complaints unsealed today and statements made in court:

The defendants, many of whom operated recruiting companies for purported international students, were arrested for their involvement in an alleged scheme to enroll foreign nationals as students in the University of Northern New Jersey, a purported for-profit college located in Cranford, New Jersey (UNNJ). Unbeknownst to the defendants and the foreign nationals they conspired with, however, the UNNJ was created in September 2013 by HSI federal agents.

Through the UNNJ, undercover HSI agents investigated criminal activities associated with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), including, but not limited to, student visa fraud and the harboring of aliens for profit.  The UNNJ was not staffed with instructors or educators, had no curriculum, and conducted no actual classes or education activities. The UNNJ operated solely as a storefront location with small offices staffed by federal agents posing as school administrators.

UNNJ represented itself as a school that, among other things, was authorized to issue a document known as a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – for Academic and Language Students,” commonly referred to as a Form I-20.  This document, which certifies that a foreign national has been accepted to a school and would be a full-time student, typically enables legitimate foreign students to obtain an F-1 student visa.  The F-1 student visa allows a foreign student to enter and/or remain in the United States while the student makes normal progress toward the completion of a full course of study in an SEVP accredited institution.

During the investigation, HSI special agents identified hundreds of foreign nationals, primarily from China and India, who previously entered the U.S. on F-1 non-immigrant student visas to attend other SEVP- accredited schools.  Through various recruiting companies and business entities located in New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York, and Virginia, the defendants then enabled approximately 1,076 of these foreign individuals – all of whom were willing participants in the scheme – to fraudulently maintain their nonimmigrant status in the U.S. on the false pretense that they continued to participate in full courses of study at the UNNJ.

Acting as recruiters, the defendants solicited the involvement of UNNJ administrators to participate in the scheme. During the course of their dealings with undercover agents, the defendants fully acknowledged that none of their foreign national clients would attend any actual courses, earn actual credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study.  Rather, the defendants facilitated the enrollment of their foreign national clients in UNNJ to fraudulently maintain student visa status, in exchange for kickbacks, or “commissions.”  The defendants also facilitated the creation of hundreds of false student records, including transcripts, attendance records, and diplomas, which were purchased by their foreign national conspirators for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities.

In other instances, the defendants used UNNJ to fraudulently obtain work authorization and work visas for hundreds of their clients.  By obtaining this authorization, a number of defendants were able to outsource their foreign national clients as full-time employees with numerous U.S.-based corporations, also in exchange for commission fees.  Other defendants devised phony IT projects that were purportedly to occur at the school.  These defendants then created and caused to be created false contracts, employment verification letters, transcripts, and other documents.  The defendants then paid the undercover agents thousands of dollars to put the school’s letterhead on the sham documents, to sign the documents as school administrators, and to otherwise go along with the scheme.

All of these bogus documents created the illusion that prospective foreign workers would be working at the school in some IT capacity or project.  The defendants then used these fictitious documents fraudulently to obtain labor certifications issued by the U.S. Secretary of Labor and then ultimately to petition the U.S. government to obtain H1-B visas for non-immigrants.  These fictitious documents were then submitted to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).  In the vast majority of circumstances, the foreign worker visas were not issued because USCIS was advised of the ongoing undercover operation.

In addition, starting today, HSI Newark is coordinating with the ICE Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) and the SEVP to terminate the nonimmigrant student status for the foreign nationals associated with UNNJ, and if applicable, administratively arrest and place them into removal proceedings.

The chart below outlines the charges for each defendant. The charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and making a false statement each carry a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charges of conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit and H1-B Visa fraud each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under the leadership of Director Sarah R. Saldaña; HSI Newark, under the leadership of Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit, under the leadership of Unit Chief Robert Soria;  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security Section, under the leadership of Associate Director Matthew Emrich; the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, under the leadership of Deputy Assistant Director Louis M. Farrell; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Vermont Service Center, Security Fraud Division, under the leadership of Associate Center Director Bradley J. Brouillette; U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Fraud Prevention Programs, under the leadership of Director Josh Glazeroff; and the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, under the leadership of Timothy Gallagher in Newark, for their contributions to the investigation.

He also thanked the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), under the leadership of Executive Director Michale S. McComis, and the N.J. Office of Higher Education, under the leadership of Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle R. Hendricks, for their assistance. In addition, U.S. Attorney Fishman thanked the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Central District of California, Eastern District of New York, Eastern District of Virginia, Southern District of New York, Central District of Illinois, Peoria Division, and the Northern District of Georgia for their help.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Carletta of the U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Unit, and Sarah Devlin of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.

Click here for the list of defendants.

 

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Commissioned Internal Review Finds @StateDept’s Consular Consolidated Database With Security Gaps

Posted: 3:52 am ET

 

According to the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) of December 2009, the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD)  contained over 100 million visa cases and 75 million photographs, utilizing billions of rows of data, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35 thousand visa cases every day.  The 2010 Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) describes (pdf) the CCD as “one of the largest Oracle based data warehouses in the world that holds current and archived data from the Consular Affairs (CA) domestic and post databases around the world.”  The 2011 OIG report says that in 2010, the CCD contained over 137 million American and foreign case records and over 130 million photographs and is growing at approximately 40,000 visa and passport cases every day.

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U.S. Embassy Banjul Suspends Consular Services Until Further Notice

Posted: 1:06 am EDT

 

On March 2, the U.S. Embassy in Banjul, The Gambia announced the closure of its consular services (except for American Citizen Services) until further notice.

According to local media, visa applicants have been told by Embassy Banjul to schedule their appointments with the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.

For visa applicants, the US Embassy Banjul had this to say: “If your need for services is immediate, please schedule an appointment with the U.S. Embassy in Dakar.  Please note that the wait times for some appointments in Dakar exceed the amount of time that we expect to be closed. We appreciate your patience, and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.”

We’ve reached out to the embassy but have not heard anything back. The embassy’s Twitter account @USEmbassyBanjul does not carry any detail of this announcement. Its FB page and website has the same announcement but contains no other details of the suspension of consular services  except that they’re hoping “to re-open appointments sometime around March 20, 2016 (though we cannot guarantee that date).”

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Snapshot: Investor EB-5 Visa Program (FY2013 – FY2015)

Posted: 12:18 am EDT

 

Excerpted from the prepared statement of Nicholas Colucci, the Chief of the Immigrant Investor Program Office for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the House Judiciary Committee Hearing, “Is the Investor Visa Program an Underperforming Asset?”, February 11, 2016:

Congress created the EB-5 visa program in 1990 as a tool to stimulate the U.S. economy by encouraging foreign capital investments and job creation. The EB-5 program makes immigrant visas and subsequent “green cards” available to foreign nationals who invest at least $1,000,000in a new commercial enterprise (NCE) that will create or preserve at least ten full- time jobs in the United States. A foreign national may invest $500,000 if the investment is in a targeted employment area (TEA), defined to include certain rural areas and areas of high unemployment.

The regional center program which has been in the news lately was first enacted in 1992, and provides an allocation of EB-5 visas to be set aside for investors in regional centers designated by USCIS. According to Mr. Colucci, there are currently 796 regional centers. This is up from about 588 at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2014, and 11 at the end of 2007.

 STATISTICS

In FY 2013, USCIS approved a total of:
• 3,699 Form I-526 petitions (Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur)
• 844 Form I-829 petitions (Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions)
• 118 Form I-924 applications (Application for Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Program)

In FY 2014, USCIS approved a total of:
• 4,925 I-526 petitions
• 1,603 I-829 petitions
• 294 I-924 applications

In FY 2015, USCIS approved a total of:
• 8,756 I-526 petitions
• 1,067 I-829 petitions
• 262 I-924 applications

Note: Form I-526, Petition for Immigrant Investor, is filed by all immigrant investors. Approval classifies the investor under section 203(b)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act so that he or she (and derivative beneficiaries) can apply for an immigrant visa or for adjustment of status to conditional permanent resident. If admitted as an immigrant or adjustment of status is approved, the immigrant investor generally must then file Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions, within 90 days of the two year anniversary of his or her admission or adjustment as a conditional permanent resident. Other EB-5-specific forms include Form I-924, Application For Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, which is used to apply for regional center designation, and Form I-924A, Supplement to Form I-924, which approved regional centers file annually to demonstrate continued eligibility for the designation.

 

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