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Highlights

Since 2003, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Visa Security Program (VSP) has participated in the visa process by reviewing applications at some embassies and consulates, with the intention of preventing individuals who pose a threat from entering the United States. The attempted bombing of an airline on December 25, 2009, renewed concerns about the security of the visa process and the effectiveness of the VSP. For this report GAO assessed (1) the ability of DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to measure the program's objectives and performance, (2) challenges to VSP operations, and (3) ICE efforts to expand the VSP program. To evaluate the VSP, we reviewed VSP data, guidance, and the ICE's 5-year expansion plan. We also interviewed ICE officials, and observed VSP operations at 6 posts overseas.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security To ensure that the Visa Security Program enhances the security of the visa process at posts overseas, the Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the VSP tracking system collects reliable data on all performance measures, to allow ICE to accurately evaluate VSP performance and report to Congress on progress toward the VSP mission objectives.
Closed - Not Implemented
DHS did not concur with this recommendation and has taken no action to implement it.
Department of Homeland Security To ensure that the Visa Security Program enhances the security of the visa process at posts overseas, the Secretary of Homeland Security should issue guidance requiring VSP agents to provide training for consular officers as mandated by section 428 of the Homeland Security Act.
Closed - Implemented
DHS has issued guidance to enhance the training of consular officers by VSP offices abroad.
Department of Homeland Security To ensure that the Visa Security Program enhances the security of the visa process at posts overseas, the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop a mechanism to track the amount of time spent by VSP agents on visa security activities and other investigations, in order to determine appropriate staffing levels and resource needs for VSP operations at posts overseas to ensure visa security operations are not limited.
Closed - Not Implemented
DHS did not concur with this recommendation and has taken no action to implement it.
Department of Homeland Security To ensure that the Visa Security Program enhances the security of the visa process at posts overseas, the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop a plan to provide VSP coverage at high-risk posts where the possibility of deploying agents may be limited.
Closed - Implemented
DHS ICE has enhanced its information technology systems so that screening and reviewing applicants at all posts worldwide will now be feasible.

Full Report