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Border Security: Fraud Risks Complicate State's Ability to Manage Diversity Visa Program

GAO-07-1174 Published: Sep 21, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 2007.
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Diversity visas provide an immigration opportunity to aliens from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Diversity visa applicants must apply online, be selected by lottery, be interviewed, and be determined to be eligible before obtaining a diversity visa. GAO was asked to review (1) the extent to which the Diversity Visa Program (DV program) is diversifying the U.S. immigrant pool, (2) areas of the DV program that are vulnerable to fraud, (3) whether there are security implications associated with these vulnerabilities, and (4) what steps the Department of State (State) has taken to address the vulnerabilities. We reviewed laws, regulations, and other documentation, and interviewed numerous State officials both at headquarters and in the field.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State To strengthen its management of the DV program, the Department of State should compile more comprehensive data on the DV program, including information on (1) detected or suspected fraud, including data on "pop-up" spouses, third party involvement, and identity and document fraud; and (2) the amount of fraud prevention resources being spent on DV investigations.
Closed – Implemented
In response to GAO?s recommendation, State has taken action to increase the data it is collecting in the Diversity Visa application process, and is using visa refusal rates to position its fraud prevention resources.
Department of State To strengthen its management of the DV program, the Department of State should use collected data to formulate a strategy to combat fraud in the DV program. This strategy should include: (1) proposals for legislative changes, if deemed necessary to mitigate fraud risks; (2) consideration of appropriate fraud prevention resources at each DV-issuing post; and (3) operational improvements to strengthen the program, including making the notification process less vulnerable to interception by third parties and exploring the feasibility of certifying some visa agents or partnering with nongovernmental entities to assist applicants with entering the lottery.
Closed – Implemented
In June 2010, GAO met with State Department officials to discuss State's implementation of these recommendations. In November 2009, State made legislative proposals to 1) end the Diversity Visa (DV) program entirely and 2) amend the program to require a college degree for applicants, thus making it less susceptible to fraud. State made direct reference to our report in its analysis of the second legislative proposal. Concerning fraud resources, State officials told us in they increased the number of Assistant Regional Security Officers for Investigations (ARSO-I) around the world to help investigate visa fraud, including an additional 25 posts in FY2009. Concerning operational improvements, State officials told us the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) has made improvements to its part of the DV processing, including posting all DV forms online and using data mining to search for anomalies in applications. State discussed these planned improvements in the April 2009 update of its initial response to our report. In January 2009, State also enhanced it fraud notices to consular posts abroad.

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Border securityData collectionData integrityDatabasesDV-1 VisasFraudHomeland securityIdentification cardsImmigrantsImmigrationImmigration and naturalization lawImmigration information systemsProgram evaluationRisk assessmentRisk managementVisas