Skip to Highlights
Highlights

The National Strategy for Homeland Security calls for preventing foreign terrorists from entering our country and using all legal means to identify; halt; and where appropriate, prosecute or bring immigration or other civil charges against terrorists in the United States. GAO reported in June 2003 that the visa revocation process needed to be strengthened as an antiterrorism tool and recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in conjunction with the Departments of State (State) and Justice, develop specific policies and procedures to ensure that appropriate agencies are notified of revocations based on terrorism grounds and take proper actions. GAO examined whether weaknesses in the visa revocation process identified in its June 2003 report were addressed.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Directorate of Border and Transportation Security To strengthen and improve the visa revocation process as an antiterrorism tool, the Secretary of Homeland Security should work jointly with the Secretary of State and other appropriate agencies to develop a written governmentwide policy that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in the visa revocation process, including TSC. This policy should include directions for sharing information and tracking visa revocation cases throughout the interagency visa revocation process. It should incorporate performance standards (e.g., time frames for completing each step in the process) and periodic interagency assessments to determine whether information is being shared among the agencies involved and appropriate follow-up action is being taken and to reconcile data differences if they occur.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2003 and July 2004, GAO documented various weaknesses in the visa revocation process (GAO-03-798 and GAO-04-795) and made recommendations to overcome those weaknesses. A number of GAO's recommendations required interagency action. In response, several interagency efforts have been conducted to eliminate weaknesses in the visa revocation process. Regarding GAO's observation that various agencies had conflicting records regarding visa revocations, State and DHS report that they have taken steps to reconcile their visa revocation records. In addition, the Terrorist Screening Center (an interagency group) has developed a process for coordinating the sharing of information on visa revocation cases. In response to GAO's observation that DHS investigators lacked information on the basis of individual revocation decisions, State and DHS have agreed that State will provide access to additional intelligence information to DHS regarding visa revocation cases. Finally, in response to GAO's observation that, in some cases, State and DHS are not familiar with what the different agencies' written policies expect of them, State testified that it is coordinating the standard operating procedures of all the agencies and putting them in a consolidated flowchart. According to a State official, this flowchart is designed to ensure that the agencies are aware, in writing, of what the others players are doing in the process.
Department of State To strengthen and improve the visa revocation process as an antiterrorism tool, the Secretary of Homeland Security should work jointly with the Secretary of State and other appropriate agencies to develop a written governmentwide policy that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in the visa revocation process, including TSC. This policy should include directions for sharing information and tracking visa revocation cases throughout the interagency visa revocation process. It should incorporate performance standards (e.g., time frames for completing each step in the process) and periodic interagency assessments to determine whether information is being shared among the agencies involved and appropriate follow-up action is being taken and to reconcile data differences if they occur.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2003 and July 2004, GAO documented various weaknesses in the visa revocation process (GAO-03-798 and GAO-04-795) and made recommendations to overcome those weaknesses. A number of GAO's recommendations required interagency action. In response, several interagency efforts have been conducted to eliminate weaknesses in the visa revocation process. Regarding GAO's observation that various agencies had conflicting records regarding visa revocations, State and DHS report that they have taken steps to reconcile their visa revocation records. In addition, the Terrorist Screening Center (an interagency group) has developed a process for coordinating the sharing of information on visa revocation cases. In response to GAO's observation that DHS investigators lacked information on the basis of individual revocation decisions, State and DHS have agreed that State will provide access to additional intelligence information to DHS regarding visa revocation cases. Finally, in response to GAO's observation that, in some cases, State and DHS are not familiar with what the different agencies' written policies expect of them, State testified that it is coordinating the standard operating procedures of all the agencies and putting them in a consolidated flowchart. According to a State official, this flowchart is designed to ensure that the agencies are aware, in writing, of what the others players are doing in the process.
Directorate of Border and Transportation Security To strengthen and improve the visa revocation process as an antiterrorism tool, the Secretary of Homeland Security should work jointly with the Secretary of State and other appropriate agencies to address outstanding legal and policy issues regarding the status of aliens with visas revoked on national security grounds who are in the United States at the time of the revocation. If these issues cannot be addressed, the Executive Branch should, by October 1, 2004, provide Congress with a list of specific actions (including any potential legislative changes) that could help resolve them.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2003 (GAO-03-798) and July 2004 (GAO-04-795) GAO identified weaknesses in the visa revocation process. We briefed interested congressional staff and discussed the potential need for Congress to make legislative changes. Regarding the weaknesses, GAO reported that the revocation of a visa on terrorism grounds is not explicitly a stated grounds for removal from the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act. As a result, the issue whether DHS would have the authority to initiate removal proceedings against an alien who is in the United States when their visa is revoked solely based on the visa revocation remained unresolved legally. We recommended that the key agencies (DHS and State) address outstanding legal issues regarding the status of persons in the United States when their visa is revoked on terrorism concerns and tell Congress if legislative changes would be necessary to resolve the issues. Congress took the opportunity to attempt to resolve the issues. Following GAO's recommendation, in December 2004, Congress passed the "Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act." The Act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to add aliens "whose nonimmigrant visa (or other documentation authorizing admission into the United States as a nonimmigrant) has been revoked" as a class of deportable aliens.
Department of State To strengthen and improve the visa revocation process as an antiterrorism tool, the Secretary of Homeland Security should work jointly with the Secretary of State and other appropriate agencies to address outstanding legal and policy issues regarding the status of aliens with visas revoked on national security grounds who are in the United States at the time of the revocation. If these issues cannot be addressed, the Executive Branch should, by October 1, 2004, provide Congress with a list of specific actions (including any potential legislative changes) that could help resolve them.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2003 (GAO-03-798) and July 2004 (GAO-04-795) GAO identified weaknesses in the visa revocation process. We briefed interested congressional staff and discussed the potential need for Congress to make legislative changes. Regarding the weaknesses, GAO reported that the revocation of a visa on terrorism grounds is not explicitly a stated grounds for removal from the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act. As a result, the issue whether DHS would have the authority to initiate removal proceedings against an alien who is in the United States when their visa is revoked solely based on the visa revocation remained unresolved legally. We recommended that the key agencies (DHS and State) address outstanding legal issues regarding the status of persons in the United States when their visa is revoked on terrorism concerns and tell Congress if legislative changes would be necessary to resolve the issues. Congress took the opportunity to attempt to resolve the issues. Following GAO's recommendation, in December 2004, Congress passed the "Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act." The Act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to add aliens "whose nonimmigrant visa (or other documentation authorizing admission into the United States as a nonimmigrant) has been revoked" as a class of deportable aliens.

Full Report