SAO PAULO ? Brazilian police on Monday broke a vast international ring that netted $50 million from applicants paying to fraudulently obtain US work visas, US and Brazilian officials in Sao Paulo said.
At least 11 people were arrested under 19 warrants issued in Brazil, Sao Paulo state prosecutors said in a statement.
The ring allegedly took up to $15,000 per applicant on the promise to obtain an H-2B temporary work visa for them for the United States.
The US consulate first detected fraud in the visa paperwork in 2003, launching a long joint investigation with Brazilian authorities called Operation Anarchy that involved wiretaps and a Brazilian undercover agent infiltrating the ring.
More than 4,500 Brazilians forked out money to the group over the past seven years, netting it an estimated 90 million Brazilian reais ($50 million), the prosecutors and the US consulate said in coordinated statements.
The fraud was allegedly also carried out in Russia, the Dominican Republic, Dominica, the Philippines, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates, though no police action was undertaken with those countries.
A US taskforce set up as part of the operation had set up a probe in the United States to gather evidence.
Visa experts were also deployed in the Sao Paulo consulate to examine applications, while Brazilian fiscal authorities were following a money trail found on the gang's computers to evaluate the scale of the scam.
According to the US State Department, the H-2B work visa is a streamlined entry authorization that applies to "temporary or seasonal nonagricultural workers."
It requires approval from the US Secretary of Labor after the applicant shows he or she has a temporary job offer from a US employer lasting up to three years.
The US Congress limits the total annual number of H-2B visas issued to 66,000.