ICE arrested 15 foreign students accused of claiming to work for fake companies in order to stay in the US

  • The Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency arrested 15 foreign students who "claimed to be employed by companies that don't exist" in order to stay in the US, the agency announced Wednesday.
  • The arrests were a result of an investigation into the Optional Practical Training program (OPT), a process that allows international students to work and remain in the US after graduation if they gain employment related to their field of study.
  • "These latest arrests demonstrate that the agency is actively targeting individuals who try to exploit the student visa system," said Tony Pham, ICE senior official performing the duties of the director. 
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The Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency arrested 15 foreign students accused of claiming they worked at fictitious companies in order to stay in the US, the agency announced Wednesday.

The arrests were the result of Operation OPTical Illusion, an ongoing investigation into students who were using the Optional Practical Training program, a process that allows foreign students to work while in school or to stay in the US after graduating if they gain employment related to their field of study.

"ICE has a system of checks in place to mitigate fraud and is committed to protecting national security by ensuring that students, visitors, and schools comply with U.S. immigration laws," said Tony Pham, ICE senior official performing the duties of the director.

"These latest arrests demonstrate that the agency is actively targeting individuals who try to exploit the student visa system," Pham said in a statement. 

The agency vets students who gain temporary employment through the OPT program to ensure compliance and prevent the status from being claimed fraudulently.

OPT allows students to remain in the US for up to 12 months as part of the program. If the student earned their degree in a STEM field specializing in science, technology, engineering, and math, they may apply for a 24-month extension.

"Every instance of fraud is a job an American worker could have had, and with so many Americans looking for work this crime is even more unacceptable," Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, said.

Among those arrested were 11 Indian nationals, two Libyan nationals, one Senegalese national, and one Bangladeshi national. The arrests took place in or near Boston, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, Houston, Texas, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Newark, New Jersey, Nashville, Tennessee, and the Pennsylvania cities of Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

In January, an NBC News investigation found thousands of students appeared to have been employed by "fake companies providing false employment verifications" in order to exploit the visa program.

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