Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested 21 people Tuesday for conspiring to enroll more than 1,000 foreigners in a non-existent New Jersey college as part of a massive "pay-to-stay" scheme.

ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit nabbed brokers, recruiters and employers from across the country who had pretended to sign up 1,076 students, primarily from China and India, at the University of Northern New Jersey. The foreign students will be charged with conspiracy to commit visa fraud and making a false statement, while the U.S. residents are being charged with conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit and H-1B visa fraud.

"Pay-to-stay schemes not only damage our perception of legitimate student and foreign worker visa programs, they also pose a very real threat to national security," New Jersey Attorney General Paul J. Fishman said in a statement.

ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña said the group was among the "system's most egregious violators."

The scammers, working for bogus recruiting companies and business entities in New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York and Virginia, offered the recipients F-1 student visas and compensated university officials with kickbacks for their cooperation. But the joke was on the fraudsters.

"Unbeknownst to the defendants and the foreign nationals they conspired with, however, the UNNJ was created in September 2013 by HSI special agents," ICE officials said.

The purported Cranford, N.J., school did not have any employees on staff, curriculum or classes, and served only as a front, according to federal officials.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Investigations and ICE's Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit also began terminating the nonimmigrant student visas for the more than 1,000 violators and will place eligible individuals into deportation proceedings.