– By Domani Spero
— and the Bureau of Consular Affairs needs a program “to address widespread diversity visa fraud!” If about 80% of the cases are questionable and that’s just from the western part of the country, we can’t imagine any kind of program short of shutting it down can cut the fraudsters out, can you?
One of the lengthier section of the State/OIG inspection report on US Embassy Ukraine pertains to the Diversity Visa program aka: the “green card visa lottery” program handled by Embassy Kyiv. Apparently, organized fraud rings “have taken control” of the diversity visa program in the country. State/OIG made a recommendation that the “Bureau of Consular Affairs should implement a program to address widespread diversity visa fraud in Ukraine.” That seems lame — a program to correct another program?
As well, just as Embassy Kyiv started handling diversity visas in 2012, its FSO-03 fraud prevention manager position was downgraded to entry-level. We would not be shocked if this position is also a 6-12 month rotational position, as is often the case with entry level positions. The State Department’s own Crime and Safety Report in 2011, 2012 and 2013 repeatedly noted that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers Ukraine a hotbed of cyber crime activity. And that “in recent years, U.S. law enforcement (the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security) pursued a number of important joint cyber crime/identify theft investigations with Ukrainian law enforcement authorities.”
And still, Embassy Kyiv got an entry level fraud prevention (FPU) manager supervising seven locally employed staff working with an Assistant Regional Security Officer for Investigations (RSO-I) to assist. A nine-person fraud unit versus organized fraud rings operating in a country of 46 million. That must seem like a tsunami despite the dedicated efforts by the FPU staff to combat fraud. Prior to the downgrading of the FPU manager position and the use of the RSO-I at the US Embassy in Kyiv, the Government Accountability Office released a report on the State Department’s visa fraud prevention. Take a look at Table 2 below from the GAO report and see if that 1:959 ratio of FPU staff to cases at US Embassy Ukraine doesn’t blow your mind. This is our first line of defense, folks; and this does not make us sleep well at night.
Excerpt from the OIG report:
In March 2012, Embassy Kyiv began processing Ukrainian diversity visas previously handled by Embassy Warsaw. The program allows citizens of eligible countries to enter a lottery for a chance to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa. The consular section has scheduled approximately 2,000 diversity visas for interviews in 2013. Painstaking work by the fraud prevention unit and the assistant regional security officer for investigations has produced a detailed portrait of a pervasive and sophisticated fraud scheme affecting the Diversity Visa program in Ukraine.
Organized fraud rings masquerading as travel agencies have taken control of the Diversity Visa program in Ukraine. They buy, steal, or obtain from public sources personal information about Ukrainian citizens, especially those living in western Ukraine. They use this information to enter these citizens’ names in the online Diversity Visa program Web site, often without their permission or awareness. In addition, other Ukrainian citizens willingly provide personal information to the fraud rings for entry into the program but are usually unaware that the fraudulent “agencies” continue to enter them year after year.
Department practice is to provide applicants with a confirmation number once they complete the diversity visa entry form online on the Department-run electronic diversity visa Web site. The instructions state that the applicant should use this number to check on the status of the entry, typically after May 1 of the program year. In Ukraine, since the fraud ring makes the entry into the online system, only the fraud ring has the confirmation number and can check to see if the entry was selected to participate in the Diversity Visa program. The fraud ring then contacts hundreds of Ukrainian selectees and requires them to sign a contract promising to pay up to $15,000 to obtain the confirmation number and to pursue an immigrant visa application. If the selectee is interested but cannot pay, the fraud ring may insist that he or she enter into a sham marriage with a person who has expressed interest in immigrating to the United States. In such a case, the “spouse” pays the agency a substantial amount of money to be paired with a diversity visa selectee.
A fraud ring may also require legitimately married diversity visa winners to obtain divorce certificates, engage in a sham marriages, and leave minor children behind in order to emigrate to the United States. Eventually, the diversity visa winners may petition for the real spouse and children to join them. Kyiv’s immigrant visa unit sees many similar cases, indicating that this practice has been occurring for years. The fraud ring enters the names of a significant percentage of the population of western Ukraine (Embassy Kyiv estimates as much as 80 percent), effectively preventing interested individuals from filing their own applications, since the Diversity Visa program prohibits duplicate entries, a function partially performed by the Department’s computer system that can automatically search for and delete duplicate applications.
The fraud ring’s involvement continues after the selectee enters the United States. The fraud ring applies for the selectee’s social security card and retains both the card and the social security number for misuse. Selectees are required to sign a contract (legally binding in Ukraine) with the fraud ring, stipulating a continuing obligation to pay the fraud ring or to work essentially as an indentured servant to repay what is “owed.” Failure to pay has led to threats against family members in Ukraine.
The consular section, in coordination with the Bureau of Consular Affairs, has taken a number of steps to combat this fraud. The embassy’s fraud prevention unit investigates all diversity visa cases. The assistant regional security officer for investigations keeps a file of Internet protocol addresses associated with fraud rings, but the organizations continually change their Internet protocol addresses to foil these efforts. In order to provide less time for fraud rings to arrange sham marriages, the consular section no longer allows applicants for diversity visas to reschedule the appointment set for them by the Kentucky Consular Center.
Interviews of diversity visa applicants are detailed and lengthy and follow a frequently-varied script, in an effort to stay one step ahead of the fraud rings’ careful coaching of the applicants. Despite these efforts, which have had a significant deleterious effect on the efficiency of the section, fraud continues. The Diversity Visa program is reviewed yearly by the Bureau of Consular Affairs resulting in a number of changes to the program in an attempt to deter fraud.
Fraud rings have exploited the automated process used to notify applicants that they have been selected for the Diversity Visa program in the Ukraine. One possible solution would be for the Department to send confirmation numbers only to the consular section in Kyiv for Ukrainian selectees, with the consular section then notifying those selected for the program. This process would add work for the consular section but less than is now required to combat fraud. The consular section estimates that between 50 and 80 percent of applicants do not have their correct address listed on their application (because of the fraud rings’ actions), but the section can use existing online resources in Ukraine to locate and notify selectees.
Even if the Consular Section can use existing online resources to locate and notify selectees, that downplays the reality that majority of the program registrants in the country are tainted by fraud. Or that many have provided their personal information to these fraud rings in the first place.
Shouldn’t the State Department be allowed to suspend the lottery program in any country if the level of fraud is deemed to be at a certain level? All regs are odd in their own way; can’t say if suspension is allowed in the regs, but ought not the State Department request this authority from Congress when fraud is this massive? Even if only 20% of all 2,000 diversity visas at post are tainted by fraud, that’s 400 cases too many.
Dear Congress, what do you think?
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes 50,000 diversity visas available annually, drawn from random selection among entries of individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Before you get upset that the State Department is giving away visas, please note that this is a congressionally mandated program. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for a class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants,” from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. For fiscal year 2015, 50,000 diversity visas (DVs) will be available.
Actually, according to DHS, the “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines the regional DV limits for each year according to a formula specified in Section 203(c) of the INA. USCIS will announce these numbers once these calculations are completed. The number of visas that will eventually be issued to natives of each country will depend on the regional limits established, how many entrants come from each country, and how many of the selected entrants are found eligible for the visa. No more than seven percent of the total visas available can go to natives of any one country.”
So there, does that make you feel good? The list here shows the countries whose natives are eligible for DV-2015, grouped by geographic region. Online registration will conclude on Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 12:00 noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT-4).
This latest report on widespread fraud in one country alone can potentially add fuel to the repeal of the diversity visa program. Section 2303 of S.744 which passed the Senate in June this year does just that. The Senate bill which passed with 68 – 32 votes was sponsored by Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY] and co-sponsored by the likes of Sen Durbin, Richard [IL], Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ] and Sen Graham, Lindsey [SC] and Sen McCain, John [AZ]. If the House agrees, and it becomes law, this will take effect on October 1, 2014 and no alien may be allocated such a diversity immigrant visa for a fiscal year after fiscal year 2015.
To read more, see CRS: Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Issues (2011) via fas.org. See the State/OIG Memorandum Report: Review of the FY2012 Diversity Visa Program Selection process, ISP-I-12-01 after the FY2012 lottery errors. To read the 2012 GAO report, click State Could Enhance Visa Fraud Prevention by Strategically Using Resources and Training.
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