Officials at the Justice Department and the Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that immigration lawyer Richard Kassel is being charged with creating fake diplomas to help foreign nationals fraudulently obtain immigration visas.

The U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said Kassel charged foreign nationals a fee to get them employment-based visas, and got those visas by presenting fake diplomas and transcripts. Kassel had help from three others, all of which are facing charges.

The Justice Department, led by Attorney General Eric Holder, is pursuing charges against a man who created fake diplomas to obtain immigration visas. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“As alleged, the defendants, including attorney Richard Kassel, cheated the system by engaging in a scheme to forge fraudulent diplomas and transcripts in order to obtain employment-based visas intended for professionals who had legitimately earned advanced degrees,” Bharara said. “Work visas must be earned not churned out if the system is to be valid and secure.”

Bharara’s office said defendants face up to five years in prison on conspiracy charges and ten years in prison each for five counts of immigration fraud. Fines as high as $250,000 are also possible.

While immigration has become a defining issue in Congress over the last few years, many members have supported increased visas for foreign nationals with science, math or engineering degrees. However, some Republicans have said there is no need to attract STEM candidates, given that millions of Americans with advanced degrees are still not able to find jobs.

A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau seemed to confirm those GOP arguments, as it said 74 percent of recent STEM graduates are not working in a STEM field.