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US visa fraud: 8 arrested, Indians can continue studies

June 06, 2012 10:53 IST
With eight officials of a New Jersey based educational institution arrested on charges of foreign student visa fraud, federal authorities have given the students, mostly from India, multiple options to continue their studies or return with prejudice.

Taking into consideration the "strong reaction" from New Delhi in the case of Tri Valley University last year, the authorities on Tuesday gave the students the opportunity to continue their studies or return to their country.

Unlike in the Tri Valley University scam, wherein it is the students who were arrested and were subject to radio tagging, federal authorities on Tuesday nabbed the officials of the New Jersey-based American Health and Technology Institute and Vision Career Consultants USA Inc, which helped Indian / foreign students get admissions at AHTI.

Fifteen-year-old AHTI has nearly 200 foreign students, majority of them being from India. AHTI did not respond to the phone calls made by PTI in this regard.

According to its website, AHTI is approved to operate in New Jersey by the department of education, NJ department of labour and workforce New Jersey. AHTI is authorised by the United States government to enroll non-immigrant alien students.

Informed sources said the institution has been issued notice to withdrawal its certification. The foreign students, said to be overwhelmingly from India, have been given options to either continue or seek transfer to another university or return to India without prejudice.

Special agents with ICE Homeland Security Investigations executed three search warrants, including two at school campuses located in Iselin and Jersey City.

Unlike in the case of Tri Valley University and Northern Virginia University wherein intermediaries or the immigration companies remained untouched, in the case of AHTI, a New Jersey-based immigration company Vision Career Consultants USA Inc has also been charged of doing visa fraud and its officials arrested.

The names of those arrested and charged, which was released by the US Attorney's Office, New Jersey, most of them appear to be people of Indian origin.

Those charged by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations are Dhirenkumar Patel, Vanrajsinh Chavda, Manamadurai Somalingham, Hemantkumar Patel, Michelle Alphonso, Maulik Gajjar, Tiffany Thomas, Yasmin Rivera, Hemlata Christian. All of them except for Hemantkumar

Patel, have been arrested. Somalingam is president of AHTI. They have been charged with conspiracy to obtain and use phony visas and conspiracy to conceal illegal aliens. All those arrested made their initial appearances before US Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz today in Newark federal court.

"The student and exchange visitor programme opens educational opportunities to deserving foreign students and enriches the educational environment at our schools," US Attorney Paul J Fishman said.

"Their actions highlight the need for constant vigilance in protecting all avenues of entry into this country. The defendants tried corrupt this worthy programme to enable illegal entry into the country and to reap personal profit," he said in a statement.

According to the criminal complaint filed in this case Dhirenkumar Parikh (34) (aka Ren Parikh) of Old Bridge, New Jersey was the president, owner, and registered agent of VCC which operates as an intermediary between students and various academic institutions within the US, recruiting students for the institutions in exchange for a referral fee and assisting students with the application process.

"Parikh and his co-conspirators defrauded the student and exchange visitor programme by providing foreign nationals, for a fee, the documents needed to obtain student visas, without verifying any of the foreign nationals' information," the Justice Department alleged.

According to the complaint, Parikh and others allegedly ran their criminal enterprise through VCC and AHTI, formerly known as 'PC Tech Learning Center LLC', a school that was certified by SEVP to enroll foreign students.

In addition to counterfeiting documents and falsely certifying that the foreign nationals had met AHTI's school admission requirements, the defendants falsely certified attendance records and actively assisted some students with hiding their prior violations of immigration law.

Meanwhile, there was no information posted on the respective websites of AHTI and VCC about the latest developments with regard to the arrests and charges of visa fraud against them.

According to information available on its website, VCC has branches in Britain, Australia, India, Canada and New Zealand. Interestingly, VCC has four branches in India and all are in Gujarat -- Ahmedabad, Anand, Baroda, Gandhinagar and Nadiad.

In a message posted on the president's page of the website, Ren Parikh says, "We are not inclined to boast about our achievements, though, of course, we are proud of the fact that we had an opportunity to extend our helping hand to more than 10,000 people who are happily settled across the world."


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