Washington, DC – Local media in Detroit are unearthing the other side of the story in the ongoing “Pay to Stay” sting operation launched by the US administration in which nearly 600 students, mostly from India, got entrapped. Earlier, India’s Federal External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a statement that the Indian government believes the students were tricked into enrolling in a fake Detroit university.
A report “Students detained after feds use fake university for immigration sting” by Channel 7 WXYZ-TV Detroit supports the argument raised by the ministerial spokesperson about the innocence of the students. In the report, the journalist met with people at the University of Farmington building. The people interviewed stated that students frequented the premises on a daily basis in efforts to find someone from the university and enquire about schedules for classes for which they had paid.
The indictment alleged: “Each of the foreign citizens who “enrolled” and made “tuition” payments to the University knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study – a “pay to stay” scheme. Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorization under the CPT program.”
But the witnessed interviewed in the report on the local TV channel in Detroit said the students were looking for officials to find out about classes and that the action taken had destroyed innocent lives.
India Working to Help
Indian Ambassador to the US, Harsh V Shringla, who arrived and got credentialed less than a month ago, is running his diplomatic machinery full throttle to help the distressed students, some already in custody due to this sting operation over recent weeks. With no class or attendance requirements at the University of Farmington, the enrolled students are spread all over the US – working at jobs which they could manage to get.
The US administration sources have confirmed to IAT that India’s Federal External Affairs Ministry has reached out about the detention of hundreds of Indian students.
Responding to media queries on the subject, Indian official spokesperson Kumar said, “As soon as we received the information regarding their detention, our Mission contacted the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security requesting for a list of the detained students along with relevant identity details, the place of their detention, etc. We have placed a formal request for consular access, emphasizing that the request may be taken as very high priority.”
According to the court document seen by IAT, the sting operation by the DHS was used to offer foreign nationals a chance to enroll in a fake university in Michigan and for them to use student status to extend US visa privileges. The indictment unsealed on Wednesday on the order of David R. Grand, United States Magistrate Judge, lists eight persons who are alleged recruiters.
Eight men who now face felony charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, are Barath Kakireddy, Suresh Reddy Kandala, Phanideep Karnati, Prem Kumar Rampeesa, Santosh Reddy Sama, Avinash Thakkallapally, Naveen Prathipati and Aswanth Nune, according the federal indictment.
On the other hand, unofficial reports put the number of students arrested from all over the US, at nearly two hundred and the official student count is nearly six hundred, more than half of them girls.
Commenting on the arrests and indictment of eight, Kumar stressed a distinction should be made between them and students. “We have highlighted that a distinction should be made between those involved in recruiting or enrolling students and students who have been duped or defrauded in the process.”
“The Government of India, together with our Mission in Washington and our Consulates in the United States are according the highest priority to the situation arising out of the detention of Indian students in the US,” noted official spokesperson.
“Our Mission and Posts are ready to render all assistance to Indian students in the US to deal with the emerging situation. We have also involved Indian community organizations in reaching out to the students,” said Kumar.
Embassy Launches 24X7 Hotline
Echoing the promises made by the Indian Government spokesperson, the Embassy of India in Washington, DC and Indian missions across the US are accepting calls and emails to help affected communities.
The Indian Embassy has issued a communique on social media and other platforms, highlighting an email address firstname.lastname@example.org and two dedicated 24X7 hotlines 202-322-1190 and 202-340-2590. It may be noted that for calls from India or other countries, please use international dialing instructions +1 or 001.
To read the original court order issued to unseal the indictment and full 16 (sixteen) pages of original indictment please read our earlier report: Pay to Stay Scheme Traps Gullible Indian Students, Hundreds Arrested