Visa Issuance:

Observations on the Issuance of Visas for Religious Workers

T-NSIAD-00-207: Published: Jun 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2000.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the issuance of visas for religious workers entering the United States, focusing on: (1) the extent and nature of any fraud the Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have identified in the religious worker visa program; and (2) any steps these two agencies 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 progress and investigations, they do not have data or analysis to firmly establish the extent of fraud in the religious worker visa program; (2) INS compiled information showing that it has conducted 54 investigations from 1994 through 1998; (3) in addition, a 1998 State survey of 83 overseas posts identified instances of potential fraud uncovered during the visa screening process; (4) the nature of the fraud uncovered by INS and State typically involved two situations: (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; (5) INS and State sometimes detect fraud schemes when a sponsoring organization petitions INS for hundreds of religious workers at a time; (6) since INS and State are not confident that the agencies screening process is identifying all unqualified applicants and sponsoring organizations, INS, with State's support, is considering a regulatory change and changes to the visa screening process; (7) at the time of GAO's March 1999 review, INS had proposed a regulatory change to expressly require that immigrant religious worker visa applicants have full-time prior work experience and work for the religious organization on a full-time basis in the United States; (8) other changes were to include: (a) requiring an applicant to submit additional evidence of his or her qualifications; (b) requiring the sponsoring organization to 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; (9) as of June 2000, the proposed regulatory change had not been made; (10) on the procedural changes, INS indicated it will continue to support the requirement for more information from visa applicants and may include this requirement as part of the proposed regulatory change; (11) according to INS officials, software changes have been made to detect multiple filings by organizations; and (12) the program modifications that INS is undertaking or plans to undertake to verify the accuracy of petitions for immigrant religious visas are reasonable steps to improve program integrity.

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