Visa Issuance:

Issues Concerning the Religious Worker Visa Program

NSIAD-99-67: Published: Mar 26, 1999. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 1999.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) the extent and nature of any fraud the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Department of State have identified in the religious worker visa program; and (2) any steps INS and State have taken or plan to take to change the visa screening process.

GAO noted that: (1) although INS and State have identified some program fraud through the visa screening process and investigations, they do not have data or analysis to firmly establish the extent of fraud in the religious worker visa program; (2) the nature of the fraud uncovered typically involved: (a) applicants making false statements about their qualifications as religious workers or their exact plans in the United States; or (b) conspiracy between an applicant and a sponsoring organization to misrepresent material facts about the applicant's qualifications or the nature of the position to be filled; (3) INS and State sometimes detect fraud schemes when a sponsoring organization petitions INS for hundreds of religious workers at a time; (4) in order to increase the availability of information necessary to allow reviewers to determine the eligibility of visa applicants and sponsors, INS, with State's support, is considering changes to the visa screening process; (5) these changes include: (a) having an applicant submit additional evidence of his or her qualifications; (b) having the sponsoring organization submit additional evidence regarding its ability to financially support the applicant; and (c) incorporating new software applications that alert reviewers to organizations filing petitions for numerous workers; (6) INS is also proposing a regulatory change to expressly require that the prior work experience specified for immigrant religious worker visa applicants be full-time and that the individuals work for the religious organization in the United States on a full-time basis; (7) the religious organizations GAO met with believe the program meets their needs; and (8) of the seven organizations commenting on the proposed regulatory change, three opposed it because some part-time religious workers that are eligible may no longer qualify.

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