Home Office Approved Immigration Adviser Jailed for Visa Scam
A Home Office-approved adviser and his wife who made more than £1million helping scores of immigrants illegally remain in Britain as part of a visa scam were jailed yesterday.
When police raided the family home of Vijay and Bhawna Sorthia, they found bundles of cash totalling £330,000 hidden in a cupboard as well as documents relating to dozens of individuals they had unlawfully assisted.
Mr Sorthia, 35, who ran immigration advisory service Migration Gurus from a small office in North West London, was yesterday imprisoned for 10 years for his part in the lucrative plot.
He first came to Britain as a student in 2000, but then illegally gained a work permit in 2004 after claiming he was employed by a sham company.
His 31-year-old wife, who said she worked as a cleaner at his office, was given a 15 month jail term for her ‘subordinate role’ in the scam.
The pair, who are both Indian nationals and have three young children, will face deportation once their sentences have been served.
As an accredited adviser with the Offices of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), which is linked to the Home Office, Mr Sorthia was able to assist individuals with claims for asylum, as well as immigration, residence and citizenship applications.
In its advertising, Migration Gurus touted itself as ‘a leading Immigration and Overseas Education consultancy’ which had ‘assisted hundreds of individuals’ enter or remain in Britain.
During an-18 month period between 2008 and 2010, the couple helped more than 160 clients illegally gain a visa by providing them with false documents alleging they were highly-skilled migrants.
It is estimated they charged between £3,000 to £5,000 each time.
But in reality, the individuals were already in Britain as foreign students, or migrant workers employed as low-skilled labour at supermarkets, betting shops or petrol stations, who would not have qualified for a new visa under the current immigration criteria.
In a bid to bypass Home Office rules, the couple were using up to 70 sham companies to provide clients with payslips and wage payments which gave the appearance they were earning much larger sums, making them eligible to remain.
Sentencing the couple at Isleworth Crown Court, Judge Andrew McDowall said Mr Sorthia’s actions risked ‘undermining’ Britain’s immigration controls and ‘eroding public confidence’ that migrants had arrived lawfully.
He warned: ‘During difficult economic times, it becomes easier for those who are motivated by racial motives to start casting aspersions against those that are properly and legitimately in the country by trying to paint everyone of that ethnic group as tainted in some way, over the wrongdoings done by a limited number.’
The court heard that following their arrest in May 2010 by investigators from the UK Border Agency, the couple sold their home in Stanmore, North West London, and transferred £466,000 out of the country, before fleeing to India on fraudulent passports.
They returned to Britain in the July 2011, but only after taking a £21,000 holiday across the United States, stopping off in New York, the Grand Canyon, Atlanta, Louisiana and San Francisco.
In total, the jury were told Mr Sorthia helped 166 people gain visas illegally over an 18-month period.
But the real number of migrants who gained a visa unlawfully is likely to have run into the hundreds, with investigators dealing with the case estimating the criminal proceeds from the scam could have netted the pair up to £1.2million.
Fifteen clients who benefitted from the scam have already been convicted and sentenced to between eight and 10 months in prison. Of these, 14 have already been deported.
Senior UKBA investigating officer Robert Coxhead said: ‘Vijay and Bhawna Sorthia knowingly flouted the UK’s immigration laws.
‘They ran a sophisticated scam designed to help people who would otherwise have no right to be here stay in the UK.
‘The amount of cash found at their home illustrates how lucrative this was, and we will now begin the process of stripping them of those assets using the Proceeds of Crime Act.
‘The couple will also face deportation after they have served their sentences.’
The pair were both found guilty of fraud charges and removing criminal property, while Mr Sorthia was also guilty of obtaining leave to remain by deception.
A confiscation hearing to recover any money the couple made from the scam will take place later this year.