The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey approved a settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on behalf of foreign national students who enrolled in the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ), a fake institution created by the U.S. government to crack down on student visa fraud. The court issued an order granting final approval of the settlement agreement on May 3, 2022.
Under the settlement’s terms, the U.S. government will pay more than $452,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs without admitting to any wrongdoing. Although the former UNNJ students will not receive any financial compensation, they can avail of expedited processing of new visa applications, have fraud accusations wiped from their immigration records, apply for reinstatement to student status upon admission to a new university, and re-enter the United States if they leave the country. Immigration authorities are not allowed to deny immigration benefits based on an individual’s UNNJ enrollment.
The lawsuit, Dong, et al. v. Johnson, et al., alleged that hundreds of former students suffered immigration-related harm due to their enrollment in UNNJ. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security set up UNNJ as part of a sting operation to crack down on F-1 student visa brokers who sought to exploit the U.S. immigration system for financial gain.
ICE shut down the fake university in 2016 after arresting over 20 educational recruiters for fraud. The foreign national students were not criminally charged, but they were left without valid student visas as the government agency immediately terminated their F-1 visa statuses in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System based on “fraudulent enrollment,” according to the lawsuit.
Many of the students had paid thousands of dollars in tuition without realizing that UNNJ was a fake university. The lawsuit contended the students were unsuspecting bystanders who were unfairly targeted by the U.S. government. The plaintiffs filed the class-action lawsuit in the hopes of getting their student visas restored.
The settlement covers all individuals who ever enrolled in UNNJ for any period of time. It also includes noncitizen spouses or children of students who enrolled in UNNJ and were granted F-2 nonimmigrant status through their family member’s UNNJ enrollment.