Guess, how much it costs to illegally migrate either to the United States of America (USA) or Canada? May be ₹10 lakh or maximum ₹30 lakh per person. No, its actually between ₹60 lakh to ₹70 lakh per person. The amount skyrockets to ₹1 crore to ₹1.25 crore if a couple of husband and wife decide to stow away hiding in a ship or any other vehicle to secretly reach the USA or Canada. And add another ₹50 lakh if an entire family of a child and parents unlawfully migrate.

Not just the passengers are willing to pay up a humongous amount of money, the dream chasing off shore trips may sniff out lives as well — an investigation by the Enforcement Directorate — has revealed.

On March 1, the ED carried our searches at 29 locations in Gujarat, Delhi and Maharashtra to probe money laundering aspect of illegal immigration of Indian nationals to foreign countries especially the USA and Canada, the agency said on Tuesday.

The ED initiated investigation on the basis of three FIRs registered by the Gujarat Police under various sections of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Prevention of Corruption Act against Bharatbhai @ Bobby Patel, Rajubhai Becharbhai Prajapati, Bhavesh Ashokbhai Patel and others. Charge-sheets have been filed in all the FIRs by Gujarat Police.

“The accused persons have been sending Indian citizen abroad illegally since 2015 on the basis of bogus or fabricated documents for getting visa of different countries with duplicate or bogus passports used as genuine by impersonating the passengers wrongly. For this, they used to collect ₹60 to ₹75 Lakh from one passenger, ₹1 to ₹1.25 Crore from a couple (husband & wife) and ₹1.25 to ₹1.75 Crore if children were also accompanied, from, the passengers desirous of going abroad,” the ED alleged.

Modus operandi

According to the agency, the modus operandi of the gang laid bare, so far, is that the desirous gullible individuals were lured by the accused persons to settle them abroad by way of fake visa or passports including student visas for which the accused persons charged huge amount.

The individuals whose student visas were issued, never joined the institute, the ED pointed out as it suspected that various overseas education institutes are also involved in the racket. Some passengers have also lost life in the transit. Four in a group of eleven Indians died on January 19, 2022, due to extreme cold weather conditions while they were sent illegally to USA from Canada.

Besides the accused, premises searched included that of their associates, immigration consultants, and auditors. The ED said During the search operations, various incriminating documents including property related documents, digital devices, various original passports, identity cards of unknown individuals, 2 luxury vehicles were seized.

Bank accounts containing ₹50.10 lakh of accused and suspects, their associates, relatives and their companies were frozen which is suspected to have secreted the proceeds of crime, the agency informed. The ED had earlier in relation to illegal human immigration conducted searches at 21 locations in Gujarat and Delhi on January 19 and January 20, February 1 and February 2, 2024.

Illegal immigrants

Late last year, the government citing US Customs and Border Protection informed the Rajya Sabha that Indians illegally entering the US went up nearly to one lakh in 2023. Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said the trend of thousands of Indians sneaking into the US illegally is new and witnessed the last four years.

Indians who were apprehended, expelled or denied entry at the US from October 2022 to 2023 September were 96,917 which is fivefold more than what it was (19883) in the same time from 2019 to 2020, as per the US Customs and Border Protection data.