DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY
FOR VISA SERVICES
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION AND CLAIMS
OF THE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MAY 5, 1999
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to provide to the sub-committee the views of the Department of State on some of the more problematic aspects of our current nonimmigrant specialty worker, intracompany transferee and student visa programs. While the large majority of these visas are issued routinely; our experience shows that, worldwide, there is a small percentage of fraud in these categories, and in a few geographic locations there are serious problems. I think it would be useful to give the committee some idea of the magnitude of the job consular officers face in carrying out the visa function. In 1998 approximately 800 consular officers adjudicated 8.1 million visa applications. That is more than 10,000 applications per officer. Our anti-fraud efforts must be practical and selective in application. We gain nothing by subjecting bona fide applicants to delays and random investigations. We constantly make judgments about where our vulnerabilities are the greatest and what methods have the greatest payoff. Today Ms. Esposito and I are going to tell you about real fraud investigations by consular officers which have broken up major fraud scams and have given us invaluable insights into the vulnerability of our highly skilled worker, intracompany transferee and student visa programs.
Mr. Chairman, the Department of State has a strong anti-fraud program, with personnel in all field offices dedicated to addressing fraud concerns. It is centered on the expertise and vigilance of our consular officers who become familiar with the economy and culture of the countries where they are assigned and where they learn to speak the local language. Consular officers examine documents, interview the visa applicants and make the final determination on visa issuance. In doing so they use a powerful and constantly improving tool, the "Consular Lookout And Support System", our name check database, that has links to the data resources of other agencies. Further, they rely on the support of the Office of Fraud Prevention Programs, within the Bureau of Consular Affairs. This office provides training, gathers and shares intelligence on patterns and trends, and offers guidance on strategies posts can use to effectively integrate anti-fraud efforts into their overall consular management.
Mr. Chairman, given available resources, we believe we are doing a good job in detecting fraud. Perhaps the best evidence of this is the large numbers of illegal immigrants who attempt to bypass our officers completely and pay thousands of dollars to smuggling organizations or for counterfeit travel documents. Let me mention a few of the successes we have had in modernizing our anti-fraud programs lately. Our innovations are designed to thwart the increasingly sophisticated and pervasive types of fraud we are countering abroad and at home by:
First, a monthly e-mail magazine of fraud trends and consular best practices that have been successful in defeating recent fraud phenomena. The articles in this publication are based upon consular reporting, INS intelligence reports, and other law enforcement sources.
Second, CD ROM guides to train our consular officers in the field.
Third, regional training courses for our locally hired Foreign Service National investigators from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa and the Middle East.
Fourth, a one week training course for anti-fraud officers at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center.
Fifth, we have urged our posts to undertake a managerial approach, including an analysis of their particular vulnerabilities, in order to find appropriate management tools and approaches to make sound consular decisions.
Sixth, we are surveying our 35 most experienced anti-fraud units on their methods for tracking cases under investigation. From the models we plan to develop a standard consular anti-fraud tracking system.
However, despite all of these efforts, for every fraud scam we detect, another better one can emerge. That is why we must continue to seek improvements in our methods and resources. Some of our greatest successes have come as a result of cooperative programs with INS. We intend to continue to work with INS. For example, we would like to work more closely with them on additional datasharing arrangements, especially on the development of an electronic system for secure shared access by our posts overseas to a central INS database of all approved petitions. With regard to students, we are actively participating in the "Coordinated Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students" or CIPRIS project, and look forward to the enhanced anti-fraud capabilities INS is building into the CIPRIS data system.
Mr. Chairman, turning to specific problems we encounter in the visa categories that are the focus of today's hearing, we have several general observations to share with the subcommittee that it may find useful as it considers the issue of fraud. First, in general, large well-known national and international companies and institutions, including schools, rarely present a problem. Whereas, very small, closely held companies that have disproportionate numbers of nonimmigrant aliens are more problematic. In her testimony my colleague from the Visa Office, Jill Esposito, will provide some examples of the types of problems we face with the smaller companies. I would like to thank the members of Congress for including in last year's American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act provisions to better regulate job shops in the H-1B category. Our posts had complained that in too many instances the large numbers of aliens headed for job shops indicated to them that U.S. workers frequently were being excluded from the possibility of employment and alien employees would experience substandard wages and working conditions.
Our second observation is that, to the extent it is feasible, added focus ought to be placed on preventing the initial approval of employment-based petitions that involve fraud by the petitioner. Employment-based nonimmigrant visa cases are initiated by the approval of a petition and conclude with the issuance of a visa. In cases where the destination employment in the United States is bogus, but the alien would be qualified for the alleged employment if it were real, the consular officer often is in a poor position to make a judgment on the bona fides of the U.S. petitioner or the actual availability of a real job. Currently, petition approval appears to be based primarily on a review of the documentation submitted by the petitioner without any attempt to meaningfully verify the authenticity of the petitioner's submission. In our view, more fraud detection up front, before the petition is approved would save much time and resources for both INS and the Department of State. I include INS here since consular officers are instructed to return petitions to INS for possible revocation proceedings when the officer has reason to believe there is fraud involved. Overseas, we have been able to make use of simple procedures such as verifying the phone numbers of the petitioning company to determine bona fides. However, these checks of domestic petitioners can be conducted more efficiently and economically in the United States. A simple call often reveals that no business exists, or that the nature of the business is actually unrelated to the skills of the alien visa applicant. Routine checks of this nature, or perhaps others, such as checking alleged employer filings with the IRS, may help to eliminate some fraudulent cases before the visa applicant reaches our window. Ms. Esposito will also tell you a little about a special project we have initiated at one of our posts abroad with the cooperation of INS. The project involves local investigation at post in certain types of cases prior to petition approval.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, with regard to fraud in student visa applications, it is very difficult for our consular officers to determine which student visa applicants may in fact be intending immigrants. In view of the fact that a school in the United States can be found for even the poorest academic achiever, we cannot base visa determinations on academic credentials alone. Unfortunately, schools that actively recruit foreign students for primarily economic reasons, and without regard to their qualifications or intentions, may encourage such high-risk underachievers to seek student visa status as a ticket into the United States. We do screen for authenticity of any required documentation, availability of funds to sustain the alien while in the United States and for the existence of a residence abroad to which the alien intends to return. And, in fact, many applicants are refused for lack of resources or home country ties. However, when outward appearances are reasonable, we cannot do much to detect those who intend to work or immigrate rather than study. An excellent case in point of which you may already be aware occurred recently when thirty two otherwise very well qualified Chinese high school students entered the United States, allegedly for a brief period of study. After the completion of their short course school officials were astounded to see every one of them hustled away from the airport by unknown third parties just prior to the departure of their return flight home. It is presumed that all will seek somehow to extend their stay in the United States. Even veteran consular officers are aghast at the audacity of this particular scheme. Subsequent investigation showed that the parents intended for their children to remain in the United States indefinitely and had paid thousands of dollars to a recruiter to get their children into the United States. The fact that these were well-qualified student visa applicants from good backgrounds demonstrates the difficulties encountered by consular officers in adjudicating student visa cases.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks. I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to speak to the subcommittee today. I would be happy to answer any questions the members may have.