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You’ve been dreaming about this forever: ascending to the stage, receiving your diploma, shaking the dean’s hand and smiling for pictures as your proud family stands in the audience. There are many opportunities to study in the US or Canada. You can make that dream a reality. However, there are also many scams out there. Read on to learn more about a university fraud that recently made the news, and how you can avoid becoming a victim.
If you’ve been researching learning opportunities in the US or Canada, it’s possible you came across the University of Northern New Jersey’s website.
The university’s website was quite convincing: it contained details about undergraduate and graduate programs, and it provided tuition costs. There was also a Facebook page with information about spring break, operating hours, and plans to expand the number of campus locations.
There was only one problem with the university: it wasn’t real. In fact, the website and Facebook page were set up by agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of a sting operation to catch fraudsters attempting to illegally extend foreign students’ visas.
DHS agents arrested 21 people at the end of March 2016, accusing them of conspiring with foreigners to maintain visas illegally. The visa applicants weren’t arrested, but DHS officials said their current visas will be terminated and they’ll have to leave the US.
The University of Northern New Jersey is far from the first pay-to-stay visa scam (although it’s probably the first US government sting operation to target fraudsters preying on foreigners who want to extend their student visas).
In March 2015, federal agents arrested three men living near Los Angeles, charging them with trying to deceive immigration officials, using phony records as foreign students so they could stay in the US illegally.
People living abroad paid these men to create fake enrollment records so they could obtain student visas and live in the US. Eventually, they attracted the notice of the federal government, which brought their scheme to an end.
The “students” who applied to the University of Northern New Jersey face severe consequences for participating in the scam. How can you avoid this situation? Firstly, be wary of people who tell you that you can enroll in a university in order to extend your student visa, but that you won’t have to go to classes. To maintain a student visa, you must be able to prove that you’re studying.
Secondly, keep in mind that you can’t work legally while you’re on a student visa in the US. If someone tells you that you can work instead of attending classes to maintain your visa, that’s a sure sign of a scam.
Thirdly, if a school or a “broker” tells you to fabricate transcripts (or pay for the service) as documentation for your visa, don’t do it. That was the advice one University of Northern New Jersey “student” received, and he took it as a red flag. Even if the school is accredited (as the University of Northern New Jersey was), it can still be engaged in shady immigration practices.
The best way to avoid a pay-to-stay student visa scam is to apply for a student visa as laid out by the US State Department.
Remember that there aren’t any shortcuts in the process. An approved US educational institution has to accept you, and you’ll need to schedule an appointment at the US embassy or consulate after you fill out the visa application forms. Applicants need certain documents to verify their identity, though the State Department might request additional documentation.
Once you obtain your student visa, follow the rules and regulations about how long you can stay in the US. Obeying the law means you won’t get in trouble.
Applying for a student visa can be challenging – you might not know how to fill out the forms or understand what documentation you need to support your request. That’s why you need the assistance of an expert in immigration law to help you prepare your student visa application.
All our cases are handled by competent and experienced immigration professionals who are affiliated with VisaPlace. These professionals consist of lawyers, licensed paralegals, and consultants who work for Niren and Associates–an award winning immigration firm that adheres to the highest standards of client service.
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