Harpreet Sachdeva, 26, of Somerset, New Jersey, and Sanjeev Sukhija, 35, of North Brunswick, New Jersey, have pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Madeline Cox Arleo in Newark federal court to separate information charging them each with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud. The conspiracy to commit visa fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for Sachdeva and Sukhija is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2017 and Jan. 10, 2017, respectively.
On April 5, 2016, 22 brokers, recruiters, and employers, including Sachdeva and Sukhija, were charged with enrolling foreign nationals in the University of Northern New Jersey, a purported for-profit college located in Cranford, New Jersey (UNNJ). UNNJ was created in September 2013 by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). It was not staffed with instructors or educators, had no curriculum, and conducted no actual classes or education activities. It operated solely as a storefront location staffed by federal agents posing as school administrators.
According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court: Sachdeva and Sukhij – Indian citizens who are present in the United States on foreign worker visas – were each employed at Right OPT, a purported international student recruiting and consulting company located in Somerset, New Jersey. Sachdeva was Right OPT’s business development, marketing, and operations manager. Sukhija was the company’s business development manager.
UNNJ represented itself as a school that, among other things, was authorized to issue a document known as a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – for Academic and Language Students,” commonly referred to as a Form I-20. This document, which certifies that a foreign national has been accepted to a school and would be a full-time student, typically enables legitimate foreign students to obtain an F-1 student visa. With the visa, they can enter or remain in the United States while they make normal progress toward the completion of a full course of study at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) accredited institution.
Sachdeva and Sukhija told Right OPT’s foreign recruits that for a fee, they could enroll at UNNJ without having to attend any classes and that their enrollment would enable them to fraudulently maintain their nonimmigrant status. With full knowledge that the recruits were not bona fide students and would not attend any courses, earn credits, or make academic progress toward any legitimate degree at UNNJ, Sachdeva and Sukhija caused Forms I-20 to be issued to the foreign nationals.
Sachdeva and Sukhija also caused the foreign nationals to be reported in government databases as legitimate foreign students. In order to deceive immigration officials, Sachdeva, Right OPT’s foreign clients, and others obtained and created fraudulent student documents, including attendance records and transcripts.
Sowrabh Sharma, 31, of New York, is charged – along with SCM Data Inc., a New Jersey corporation, MMC Systems Inc., a Virginia corporation, and Shikha Mohta, 33, of Jersey City, New Jersey, the head of finance for the companies – with one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and to obstruct justice and one count of conspiracy to harbor aliens. Mohta was previously arrested in May 2015 on a criminal complaint and was released on a $100,000 bond. The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, announced the charges.
If convicted, the visa fraud and obstruction of justice conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The alien harboring conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the indictment SCM Data and MMC Systems offered consultants to clients in need of IT support. Both companies recruited foreign nationals, often student visa holders or recent college graduates, and sponsored them for H-1B visas that allow businesses in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialized or technical expertise in a particular field, such as accounting, engineering or computer science.
SCM Data, MMC Systems, Sharma, Mohta and others, recruited foreign workers with purported IT expertise who sought work in the United States. The conspirators then sponsored the foreign workers’ H-1B visas with the stated purpose of working for SCM Data and MMC Systems’ clients throughout the United States.
When submitting the visa paperwork to USCIS, those indicted, allegedly falsely represented that the foreign workers had full-time positions and were paid an annual salary, as required to secure the H-1B visas. However, the foreign workers were only paid when they were placed at a third-party client who entered into a contract with SCM Data or MMC Systems.