This is the story of how three non-DHS entities uncovered a widespread scheme to provide legal-looking status to 5,000 or more one-time foreign students from China — something the Department of Homeland Security should have uncovered for itself.
The players were some FBI agents in Chicago, NBC's Bay Area station, and a bit part by the Center for Immigration Studies.
It is not clear what the government will do about the scheme, though I suspect that an investigation, or a bunch of them, are ongoing.
Here's the sequence of events:
First, the FBI stumbled on the odd employment pattern of Findream, a pretend employer that had 1,066 former F-1 foreign students on its OPT "payroll", but, for some reason never hired foreign undergrads. Most big users of OPT workers also hire large numbers of undergrads in the summer.
The FBI encountered Findream by chance as a result of its investigation of an alien, Ji Chaoqun, who subsequently pled not guilty to spying charges. He told the agency that he had paid Findream to list him as one of its OPT workers, thus giving him what appeared to be legal status. (The PACER file of court records on the Chaoqun case, which I have read in the past, is currently unavailable to the public for some unknown reason; it is case 1:208cr00611).
The FBI learned Findream had virtually no web presence and only a nominal office. It has since gone out of business. The Optional Practical Training program — which really involves no training — is the nation's second largest foreign worker program, after H-1B, and gives alien alumni of U.S. colleges one to three years of authorized employment; with the longer period for those with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math.
Then, second, CIS, after hearing about the Findream case, found four other employers who were on the list of the largest employers of OPT workers, but like Findream never or virtually never hired undergrads, and we reported this on October 31, 2018. None of the names of will be familiar to the reader: Arecy, CG Max Design Corporation, Tellon Trading, and XCG Design Corp.
Third, NBC, using an approach similar to ours but with the field staff we lack, found 14 firms playing the role of pretend employers, including the ones we had identified earlier. The "employers", for a fee, falsely told an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), that the aliens were working for them as OPTs, allowing those ex-students to stay in the country, when they otherwise would have been in illegal status.
NBC found this pattern:
Red flags varied by company, but each shared a common set of traits: Unreachable corporate officers, an OPT workforce comprised of 99% Chinese nationals and corporate headquarters based at either single-family homes, luxury residential high-rises or shared workplaces.
The patterns we noted at CIS (from DHS data) were firms hiring large numbers of OPT alumni workers, and no undergraduates; further, a quick review of the internet showed a sparseness in each of the firms' websites that sometimes mauled the English language. This pattern — which required no field staff to uncover — should have been spotted immediately by SEVP.
Finally, NBC turned to DHS and there is a dull thud of an interview between NBC's investigative reporter and the SEVP director in which nothing is learned.
The larger of these pretend employers were making millions each year from this scheme.
One hopes that this is not the end of the story, and that governmental investigations will produce some indictments, and later fines, imprisonments and deportations.