The University of Farmington described itself on its website as a school for science and business that dates back to the 1950s. The school, near the city of Detroit, Michigan, said it “combines traditional instruction and distance learning” and offers “flexible class schedules.”
But the University of Farmington had no instruction, no classes and no teachers at all. Instead, the Detroit Free Press reports, the school was a fake university meant to “target foreign students who wanted to stay in the U.S.” illegally. It was set up by the Department of Homeland Security, a U.S. government agency that oversees immigration.
A federal grand jury in Detroit has charged eight people in connection to the investigation. All eight people worked as student recruiters for the university. Most are from India.
The charges were filed earlier this year and made public Wednesday. The charging documents say recruiters “conspired with each other” to permit over 600 foreign citizens to illegally stay in the country. The recruiters reportedly took in over $250,000 in profits from 2017 to early this year.
The charges say the recruiters knew the university was fake. But what they did not know was that the school was part of a secret operation by agents with Homeland Security.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is part of the Homeland Security department. In a statement Wednesday, ICE said the agents had been carrying out the investigation since 2015.
ICE says the recruiters and the foreign students “knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes.” The students who registered at the fake university were part of a student visa program called CPT (Curricular Practical Training). The program permits international students to work in the United States.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement, “We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa program can also be…abused.”
Also on Wednesday, federal agents arrested about 100 students who registered for classes at the University of Farmington. Hundreds of others face possible arrest. The students face charges related to immigration violation and could be forced to leave the country, The Detroit News reported.
Many of the students are from an Indian ethnic group that speaks the Telugu language. On its Facebook page, the American Telugu Association said students should understand the risks of possible fake agents who “promise illegal ways to stay in USA through admissions in unaccredited colleges and universities.”
The association planned a live video program Thursday to help explain the issues to community members.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
(Author Ashley Thompson adapted this story based on reports by the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.) (In this Photo a screenshot of the University of Farmington website.)