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LOS ANGELES – A Woodland Hills man pleaded guilty today to federal criminal charges in connection with a scheme where Chinese nationals fraudulently obtained student visas by hiring people with fake Chinese passports to take an English proficiency test on their behalf. This scheme was shut down thanks to assistance from USCIS fraud detection and national security immigration officers.

Liu Cai, 24, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of using a false passport. United States District Judge John A. Kronstadt scheduled a February 13, 2020, sentencing hearing, at which time Cai will face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

Cai is the lead defendant in a 26-count federal grand jury indictment returned in March, charging six defendants with conspiring to use false passports, using false passports, and aggravated identity theft, as part of the scheme to impersonate Chinese nationals who were required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to obtain a student visa.

“USCIS officers are on the job everyday working to identify and expose those who attempt to defraud and exploit our nation’s immigration system,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. “We are proud to have supported our law enforcement partners in this investigation and pleased to have had a role in putting this fraudster out of business. I thank our ICE, State Department, and Justice Department colleagues for their work to shut down this visa scheme.”

According to his plea agreement, in March 2015 and October 2016, Cai knowingly and willfully used counterfeit passports of the People’s Republic of China, furnishing them to proctors of the TOEFL exam. Cai admitted that he took the TOEFL exams on behalf of two Chinese nationals who sought to enter and remain in the United States on student visas.

Cai further admitted that he belonged to a network of U.S. citizens and permanent residents that were paid to impersonate TOEFL examinees. Cai impersonated a Chinese national on at least five occasions between March 2015 and October 2016, according to his plea agreement. Because of Cai’s conduct, college applicants fraudulently entered and remained in the United States on fraudulently obtained student visas, the plea agreement states.

The United States requires foreign citizens who wish to enter the United States on a temporary basis to study at a college or university to first obtain an F-1 student visa. To obtain a student visa, foreign citizens must first apply to study at a school that has been authorized by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll foreign students. In the United States, SEVP-certified schools require foreign citizens whose first language is not English to certify proficiency in English by achieving a particular score on the TOEFL.

When the foreign national goes to a TOEFL testing location, the test taker must present an original, non-expired, government-issued identification document recognized by their home country.

All of Cai’s co-defendants – Quang Cao, 24, of San Francisco; Elric Zhang, 25, of Los Angeles; Mohan Zhang, 24, of Cerritos; Samantha Wang, 25, of Corona, and Tuan Tran, 33, of Taiwan – have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in this case and are scheduled to be sentenced in the coming months.

This case was by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Fraud Detection National Security Section. The Educational Testing Service, which administers the TOEFL exam, has provided assistance during the investigation.

This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Gabriel J. Podesta of the General Crimes Section.

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