The number of foreign students detained in an alleged visa fraud scheme that involved a fake U.S. university has climbed to 146.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told VOA on Wednesday that the number had risen from 130 at the end of last week, as federal agents detained additional suspects in a nationwide search.
Federal court documents unsealed in Michigan last Wednesday detailed an elaborate plan staged by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to target student visa abuse by foreign students.
The U.S. government contends that those arrested were taking advantage of a university that offered no classes and had no faculty, in order to obtain a type of work authorization available only to students.
Of the eight men facing criminal charges for allegedly recruiting students to the fake university, five made their first appearance in a Michigan court on Monday, according to court documents.
John Brusstar, an attorney representing one of the accused, Phanideep Karnati criticized the federal agents who created the sting operation.
“It is unfair for the government to set up something like this to entrap people,” he told the Detroit Free Press.
The 146 detained “students” who enrolled in the University of Farmington do not face criminal charges, but will likely face deportation.
The majority of the students are from India.
“We underlined that students, who may have been duped into enrolling in the university, should be treated differently from those recruiters who have duped them,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a press release Saturday.
The Indian government has set up a help line based out of its consulate in Washington for those students affected.
In efforts to obtain any of the top four job-based visas available for the United States, Indians face a backlog that in some cases goes back to applications nearly a decade old, according to U.S. State Department data.