AZTech, Integra Technologies, AndWill, and Wireclass Update VI: Operation Bad Apple.
We have been able to review some of the government documents relating to the DHS investigation of these companies. Needless to say, the documents are eye-opening.
The government investigation into the OPT scandal is entitled Operation Bad Apple. But unfortunately, DHS considers not only the people behind AZTech, Integra, Wireclass and AndWill as the “bad apples,” but the F-1 students who were associated with them as well.
Lest there be any doubt, the DHS documentation makes clear: these OPT sponsors were “shell companies”. These companies produced “fraudulent employment letters for F-1 students on OPT, STEM OPT, and CPT.” They used “virtual offices” and are not “legitimately operating businesses.” In retrospect, we all know that.
But the broad brush which DHS paints the students – as knowing participants in fraud – is alarming. There does not appear to be any gray area. Per DHS, the students did not work for these companies or receive payment; rather, they used the “fraudulent letters to maintain student status, extend their time in the US” or engage in unlawful employment with gas stations and other service businesses. According to DHS, “some of” the students may have obtained a visa or H-1B status through fraud, claiming to be working for these companies. Going forward, DHS investigators will review “any other” applications submitted by these individuals, regardless of application type.
Incredibly, there is no discussion in the DHS documentation about the mindset of some of the students at the time of accepting the offer, whether they knew or believed that the offer was legitimate. There is no discussion of the veneer of legitimacy of these companies – E-Verify numbers, the convincing representatives, the AZTech and Integra rankings alongside the likes of Facebook and Amazon as the top OPT employers, that it took DHS itself several years to actually catch up to the “bad apples” behind these companies, the lack of warnings of potential bad actors by DSOs and universities, which were supposed to ensure OPT compliance. There is no nuance or discussion of “materiality”: that some students were associated for only a couple of weeks and totaled less than 90 days of unemployment, including this time of affiliation (150 days for STEM OPT), that the overwhelming majority of students independently qualified for the H-1B position being offered and did not present bogus credentials to employers, USCIS, or consular officers.
This one-size-fits-all, tunnel vision approach of DHS is fraught with unjust, draconian consequences: lifetime bans for many individuals who have been victimized by a scam. Worse, USCIS is misleading applicants – approving petitions even after the allegations have been rebutted in response to a Notice of Intent to Deny or RFE, but putting a “hard” inadmissibility determination into the database without informing the beneficiaries or their employers. This only becomes known after leaving the US and applying for the visa, ensuring extreme difficulty for the applicant in trying to challenge the decision and stranding them outside the US – possibly never able to return again. There have even been reports of CBP misleading individuals when they leave the US – interviewing them, telling them not to worry, they will get a new visa, and then after departure, learning from the consular officer of the DHS finding of inadmissibility.
In short, as the DHS documents show, the OPT scandal is and will continue to be a legal minefield with lifechanging ramifications. If you would like to consult about your situation, please contact us.