State Department:

1991 Immigrant Visa Lottery

NSIAD-92-166: Published: May 1, 1992. Publicly Released: May 15, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how the Department of State processed applications for the visa lottery authorized by the Immigration Act of 1990, focusing on: (1) why State attempted to process applications in the order they were received; (2) whether State's acceptance of multiple applications was appropriate; (3) whether companies or firms advertised and charged fees to help aliens file applications and paperwork; (4) whether State managed the lottery properly; and (5) options to prevent companies or firms from charging excessive fees to help aliens file applications.

GAO found that: (1) Public Law 101-649 states that visas should be made available in the chronological order in which aliens apply; (2) U.S. Postal Service (USPS) officials stated that the public may have misinterpreted the law to mean that State would process applications in the order in which they were received at the postal facility in Merrifield, Virginia; (3) State registered applications in the chronological order in which USPS delivered them during the visa lottery, but the registration process was not strictly based on chronological order; (4) in accordance with Public Law 101-649, State allowed people to submit multiple applications; (5) individuals submitting multiple applications were more likely to succeed in the lottery, and some may have spent large amounts of money; (6) State advised USPS to expect about 5 million applications, but USPS received 23.7 million applications; (7) in December 1991, Congress amended Public Law 101-649 to require State to grant visas in fiscal year 1993 and 1994 based on random selection and limit each individual to one application; (8) several organizations representing ethnic groups reported seeing advertisements and hearing of companies and law firms charging fees up to $800 to help aliens submit visa applications; and (9) USPS took steps to prevent fraud and mismanagement of lottery mail processing, but could not dismiss the possibility of fraud.