MORE THAN 250 foreign students have been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a sting operation against "pay-to-stay visa mills"--fake universities that handle transcripts and paperwork so that foreign students can maintain their visa status without actually attending college.
But sources connected to the students say the operation, which involved ICE setting up its own fake university, lured in a number of students who had done nothing wrong. Some of those students were even tricked into quitting legitimate schools in favor of the feds' fake university. Meanwhile, real visa mills--the operation's supposed target--remain unaffected.
The latest chapter in the story began in 2015, when ICE decided to crack down on visa mills. The agency created the University of Northern New Jersey, a fake college that held no classes and offered no instruction. If students paid recruiters between $3,000 and $12,000, they could "enroll" and show that they were taking the course load needed to satisfy the requirements of their F-1 student visas and, more importantly, to obtain Curricular Practical Training (CPT) status.
Usually, F-1 recipients are limited to 20 hours of weekly on-campus employment. But CPT status allows those who have completed one year of academic work to take jobs off campus if the work is integral to their area of study. For instance, nursing students who need practical training to complete the requirements for their degrees can work in a hospital and get paid for it.
The New York Times reported in 2016 that some University of Northern New Jersey students genuinely didn't know what they were getting into. Many students had obtained jobs but didn't win an H-1B visa in the annual lottery, which gets twice as many applicants as there are visas handed out each year. So the CPT became a stopgap way of obtaining work status until they could try again for an H-1B.
The sensible policy response would have been for Congress to raise or scrap the annual H-1B cap so that foreign students with job offers are assured of work authorization. This would instantly throw all the visa mills out of business. But given the enthusiasm for enforcement, ICE decided to play detective via elaborate stings.
The 2015 New Jersey sting resulted in over 1,000 students losing their visas and being thrown out of the country. But according to Rahul Reddy, a Texas attorney who specializes in employment-based immigration law, the primary targets were...