The federal court house in Alexandria. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)

A Virginia businessman who used shell companies to fraudulently apply for nearly a thousand foreign workers visas will spend 28 months in federal prison and then is likely to be deported to India. His wife is also being sent back and will be accompanied by the couple’s U.S.-born son.

For years, Raju Kosuri ran what prosecutors in Alexandria federal court described as a visa-for-sale system using the H-1B program for specialized foreign workers, making over $20 million in the process. He pleaded guilty last year to visa fraud and making false statements.

President Trump has frequently criticized the H-1B program, at times suggesting he would eliminate it altogether.

Kosuri, 45, initially faced far more prison time as leader of the fraud conspiracy and has forfeited all the money he made from the scheme. U.S. District Judge ­Leonie M. Brinkema said in court Friday that problems with the prosecution of the case led to a more lenient sentence, but that she had to send a message to anyone considering similar malfeasance.

The H-1B visa program “has the potential to yield great financial rewards,” Brinkema said. “The temptation is there.”

President Trump has called for a re-examination of the visa process that allows skilled workers to work in the U.S. Here's why the skilled worker visa program is so controversial. (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Kosuri’s wife, Smriti Jharia, 46, is one of the immigrants he ­illegally sponsored. She pleaded guilty to falsely obtaining naturalization and agreed Friday to move back to India immediately and give up her U.S. citizenship. She said their son, a native U.S. citizen who has never lived in India, will go with her.

Steve McCool, Jharia’s attorney, said his client “was grateful that she was permitted to voluntarily remove herself from the United States. Unfortunately, her son has to pay a heavy price for her criminal conduct.”

Charges against three other defendants allegedly involved in the scheme were dismissed after Brinkema found prosecutors had failed to turn over relevant evidence, according to court records. A sixth defendant was allowed to withdraw her guilty plea; she went to trial this month, and a verdict has not been reached.

“This has been a long and unusual case,” said Kosuri’s attorney, Stuart Sears. “He regrets his conduct, and he and his family have paid a tremendous price.”

Starting in 2000, Kosuri launched over a dozen businesses that claimed to provide information technology services out of Danville, Va. In fact, he admitted, they existed merely as vehicles to get visas for Indian nationals who would actually work elsewhere.

Kosuri, who emigrated from India in 1999 and was a lawful permanent resident, was paid millions by the companies where those visa recipients worked. He also obtained millions in bank financing by misrepresenting his business, as well as a $500,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission. He and his wife tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to win federal contracts through the Small Business Administration for one of the companies.

Seventy-one percent of H-1B visa recipients came from India in 2015, according to a 2016 DHS report. Giant multinational outsourcing firms based in India every year submit tens of thousands of applications for workers in the technology and engineering fields.

“If fraud like [Kosuri’s] becomes too prevalent, the result may be that the H-1B process is severely cut back,” Assistant United States Attorney Jack Hanly wrote in a court filing. “That would be a major setback for those who use the program honestly and benefit from its availability.”

In April, Trump ordered a review of the H-1B program and announced new steps to combat fraud and abuse, including un­announced site visits to companies with a high ratio of workers from the program.