President Obama Ends ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Policy For Cuban Migrants

Posted: 12:32 am ET

 

In August 2016, nine Latin American countries wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry about the USG’s “wet-foot/dry foot” policy and “expressing their deep concern about the negative effects of U.S. immigration policy across the region.” (see Nine Latin American Countries Request Review of U.S. “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” Policy For Cuban Migrants).

Today, the White House announced the end of the policy which allows Cuban migrants seeking passage to the United States who are intercepted at sea (“wet feet”) to be sent back to Cuba or to a third country, while those who make it to U.S. soil (“dry feet”) are allowed to remain in the United States. The change in policy is effective immediately according to DHS.  Below is the announcement:

Today, the United States is taking important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era.  Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.  By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.

Today, the Department of Homeland Security is also ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.  The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people.  Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.

The United States, a land of immigrants, has been enriched by the contributions of Cuban-Americans for more than a century.  Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies. With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws.   During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people – inside of Cuba – by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.

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Remember The Time When Darth Vader Refused to Stand in “That Visa Line” at US Embassy London?

Posted: 12:12 am ET

 

Ambassador Eileen Malloy previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs and was U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 1994 to 1997. The following is an excerpt from her Oral History interview recounting her first tour experience in London between 1978 and 1979. The interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy for ADST in 2008.  During her first tour, the then newbie FSO felt underwhelmed by life in the Foreign Service though she did have one bright spot when she met Darth Vader, at where else? The visa line.  Via ADST | From What Have I Gotten Myself Into? Tales from Rough First Tours.

Once the staff came to me and said “there is this British man and he will not go away. He’s insisting on seeing you and he’s not an American.” So I finally went out and talked to him. He said, “You don’t know who I am and that’s the problem.”

He said, “I am Darth Vader.” I’m thinking, oh my God.

He was the British actor who played Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies (David Prowse).

Via ADST

Via ADST

The body was his. Of course the voice was James Earl Jones, but most people don’t realize he was never under that costume. The man said, “I am one of the biggest stars and nobody knows me and they’re telling me I have to go stand in that visa line and I will not stand in that visa line.”

So we took his visa application and walked him out the back door. He, I saw in the paper that he passed away about five years ago. He was a British body builder. Just, he just did all the stunts and everything. But it was really funny. No one knows my name—or my face—no one knows my face.

The transcript of Ambassador Malloy’s oral history interview is available in full here (PDF).

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Mexico Arrests Suspect, Reportedly a US Citizen, in Shooting of US Diplomat in Guadalajara

Posted: 3:34 pm PT
Updated: 4:30 pm PT

 

Mexico’s Fiscalía General del Estado de Jalisco announced today that the suspect on Friday’s attack of a U.S. consular official from USCG Guadalajara had been arrested (see American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico). According to the state attorney general on Twitter, the suspect was handed over to Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office .

Secretary Kerry released the following statement on January 8:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I want to thank the Government of Mexico for their swift and decisive arrest of a suspect in the heinous attack against our Foreign Service Officer colleague in Guadalajara, Mexico. The safety and security of U.S. citizens and our diplomatic staff overseas are among our highest priorities. My thoughts and prayers remain with this officer and his family during this difficult time. I wish him a speedy recovery.

The Guardian’s latest reporting on this incident cites a source within the Guadalajara police force who spoke on condition of anonymity, and identified the suspect as Zafar Zia, a 31-year-old American citizen (AmCit) of Indian origin.

The source said Zia was captured in a joint operation by the FBI, DEA and Jalisco state officials in Guadalajara’s affluent Providencia neighbourhood early on Sunday morning. The suspect had a .380 caliber pistol tucked into his waistband when he was arrested. The authorities also seized a Honda Accord with California license plates, a wig and sunglasses that may match those seen in footage of the shooting, and 16 ziplock bags containing 336 grams of a substance believed to be marijuana.

US Mission Mexico has declined to provide further information to the media about the shooting and declined to identify the employee or his position at the consulate general; information that is already widely reported in U.S. and Mexican media.

A separate news report says that the suspect had moved to Guadalajara in November 2016 from Phoenix and had been residing in the city since. The report also says that “the apparent motive for the attempted murder appears to have been a disagreement over an undisclosed visa process.” A local report confirms that the suspect has been residing in a farm in Colonia Prados Providencia for about two months. All the rooms on site were reportedly rented by students.

Consular officials have been screamed at, and spit on by rejected visa applicants, and there are obviously some very unhappy visa applicants but if this is true, this would be the first time since 2010 where an armed attack is tied to a visa office (see Three from US Consulate General Ciudad Juárez Dies in Drive-By Shooting). There was a time when all that separate a visa officer from a visa applicant is an open counter.  Easy to grab and physically attack a visa official or employee. We kind of recall that the hard line interview windows started going up in the early 80’s. Our go-to pal for this stuff told us that there were certainly incidents of client aggression and assaults in both visa and citizen services sections but believed that the interview window upgrade was just part of the larger hardline standard (i.e., putting forced-entry and ballistic protection between public areas and the general work area).

The U.S. Government has spent millions upgrading embassy security and beefing up security protection inside consular offices but this attack shows how vulnerable our people are overseas even when they are just going about the ordinary routines of daily life (going to a gym, using an ATM machine, driving a car, etc).  The latest GAO report on diplomatic security points out that the worst attacks against our diplomatic personnel actually occurs while they are in transit (see GAO Reviews @StateDept’s Efforts to Protect U.S. Diplomatic Personnel in Transit).

In any case, if true that the suspect is a U.S. citizen, a couple of thoughts: one, he would not have a need for a U.S. visa, unless it is for a fiancee/spouse or other family members of foreign origin.  We probably will hear more about this in the coming days. Two, as a U.S. citizen arrested in a foreign country, a U.S. consular officer assigned at the American Citizen Services branch in USCG Guadalajara would have to visit the suspect in jail; as U.S. consular officers do worldwide to ensure the fair and humane treatment for U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas.

We should note that the U.S. and Mexico has an extradition treaty that allows for the transfer of suspected or convicted criminals from one to country to the other. So this case might yet end up in a U.S. court. Latest update from AFP says that the suspect will be deproted deported back to the United States to face further legal action.

 

Meanwhile, USMission Mexico has released a Security Message urging precautions following the shooting in Guadalajara.

Related posts:

Employees of U.S. Consulate General Monterrey (a non-danger post) face credible security threat in Mexico Apr 2016
USCG Monterrey: USG Personnel Banned From Driving Between Post-U.S. Border, Also Extortions Up by 24%
US Mission Mexico: ICE Special Agents Killed/Wounded at Fake Roadblock on Road to Monterrey
New Mexico Travel Warning: “Authorized Departure” remains in place for Mexico’s northern border cities, Monterrey to go partially unaccompanied with no minor dependents
US ConGen Monterrey in Mexico Goes Unaccompanied
US Consulate General Monterrey personnel urged to keep kids at home following American School Shootout
Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay
New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status
Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico
Snapshot: The State Department’s Danger Pay Locations (as of February 2015)
Mexican Border Consular Posts Get 15% Danger Pay
Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal …
State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts

US Embassy Accra’s “Operation Spartan Vanguard” Shuts Down Fake U.S. Embassy in Ghana

Posted: 12:23 am ET

 

Via state.gov/DS

In Accra, Ghana, there was a building that flew an American flag outside every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, 7:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Inside hung a photo of President Barack Obama, and signs indicated that you were in the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. However, you were not. This embassy was a sham.

It was not operated by the United States government, but by figures from both Ghanaian and Turkish organized crime rings and a Ghanaian attorney practicing immigration and criminal law. The “consular officers” were Turkish citizens who spoke English and Dutch.

For about a decade it operated unhindered; the criminals running the operation were able to pay off corrupt officials to look the other way, as well as obtain legitimate blank documents to be doctored.

This past summer the assistant regional security officer investigator (ARSO-I) at the real U.S. Embassy in Accra, in cooperation with the Ghana Police Force, Ghana Detectives Bureau, and other international partners, shut down this fake embassy.

This investigation is a small part of the broader “Operation Spartan Vanguard” initiative. “Operation Spartan Vanguard” was developed by Diplomatic Security agents in the Regional Security Office (RSO) at U.S. Embassy Ghana in order to address trafficking and fraud plaguing the U.S. Embassy and the region.

During the course of another fraud investigation in “Operation Spartan Vanguard” an informant tipped off the ARSO-I about the fake U.S. embassy, as well as a fake Netherlands embassy operating in Accra.

After receiving the tip, the ARSO-I, who is the point person in the RSO shop for “Operation Spartan Vanguard” investigations, verified the information with partners within the Ghanaian Police Force. The ARSO-I then created an international task force composed of the aforementioned Ghana Police Force, as well as the Ghana Detective Bureau, Ghana SWAT, and officials from the Canadian Embassy to investigate further.

The investigation identified the main architects of the criminal operation, and two satellite locations (a dress shop and an apartment building) used for operations. The fake embassy did not accept walk-in visa appointments; instead, they drove to the most remote parts of West Africa to find customers. They would shuttle the customers to Accra, and rent them a room at a hotel nearby. The Ghanaian organized crime ring would shuttle the victims to and from the fake embassies. Locating the document vendor within the group led investigators to uncover the satellite locations and key players.

The sham embassy advertised their services through flyers and billboards to cultivate customers from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo. Some of the services the embassy provided for these customers included issuance of fraudulently obtained, legitimate U.S. visas, counterfeit visas, false identification documents (including bank records, education records, birth certificates, and others) for a cost of $6,000.

The exterior of the fake embassy in Accra, Ghana. (U.S. Department of State photo)

The exterior of the fake embassy in Accra, Ghana. (U.S. Department of State photo)

Exterior of the legitimate U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana (U.S. Department of State photo)

Exterior of the legitimate U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana (U.S. Department of State photo)

Read in full here: http://www.state.gov/m/ds/rls/263916.htm.

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Burn Bag: Consular Locally Employed Staff on LinkedIn? #VisaTroubles

Via Burn Bag:

“So, the Consular Section’s locally engaged employees are publicly identifying themselves as such on LinkedIn? Not a good idea.”

via imoviequotes.com

via imoviequotes.com

LES – Locally Employed Staff

FSNs – Foreign Service National employees

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NY Couple Pays $1 Million Penalty in Immigration Fraud Scheme Involving Philippine H-1B Nurses

Posted: 3:01 am ET

Via USDOJ/Vermont:

New York Lawyer and Wife Pay $1 Million Following Conviction on Immigration Fraud Scheme

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced today that Loreto Kudera, age 45, and Hazel Kudera, age 43, a married couple from New York, New York, who have pleaded guilty to an immigration fraud scheme, have paid the final installment of their $1 million forfeiture penalty representing ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

On June 9, 2016, the Kuderas pleaded guilty to charges that they conspired to commit immigration fraud. According to the public record, Hazel Kudera owns several medical staffing agencies in New York specializing in providing nursing professionals to hospitals, outpatient and skilled nursing facilities. She and her husband, Loreto Kudera, then a lawyer at the Law Offices of Barry Silberzweig, in New York, New York, provided false and fraudulent information to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in St. Albans, Vermont when applying for  for foreign nurses.

The H-1B visa program permits an employer to petition on a behalf of a foreign national beneficiary to enter the United States for the specific purpose of working for the employer in a specialty occupation. There are a limited number of H-1B visas available each year, and the purpose of the program is to ensure that these visas go to legitimate beneficiaries to fill specialty positions from a qualified work force. Working as a general RN or LPN is not considered a specialty occupation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Knowing this, Hazel Kudera and Loreta Kudera falsely stated that these foreign nurses, mostly from the Philippines, would be working in specialty occupations at prevailing wage rates when, in fact, they were going to work as LPNs or RNs at much lower rates, mostly at nursing homes. Hazel Kudera and Loreto Kudera profited from this scheme from the filing fees they collected from the beneficiaries as well as from the health care facilities which were paying fees to the medical staffing agencies owned by Hazel Kudera. The Kuderas admitted that they submitted 100 or more fraudulent petitions as part of their scheme. As a result of their convictions, the Kuderas agreed to forfeit $1,000,000 in illegal proceeds to the United States.

The Kuderas are scheduled to be sentenced on September 28, 2016. The maximum penalties for their conviction are five years of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, or a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of gross gain, whichever is greater. The sentence will be advised by the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The United States Attorney commended the investigative efforts of the United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, the United States Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud, and the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, in Boston, Massachusetts, who jointly spearheaded the investigation. The United States Attorney also wishes to thank the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, Security Fraud Division, at the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, Vermont for their assistance with the investigation.

The original announcement is available here.

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US Embassy Tashkent: OIG Report Plus What’s This About “Fun Community Policing”?

Posted: 3:13 am ET

 

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan is a medium size post with a complement of 408 authorized staff which includes foreign national employees, locally hired Americans and 64 direct-hire Americans.  State/OIG released its inspection report of  US Embassy Tashkent last April. Given that the inspection in 2008 was a limited scope review– with focus on major areas of interest rather than examining all the items covered in a traditional inspection — it is surprising that the 2016 report, a traditional inspection conducted after 7 years  is only 4 pages longer than the 2008 report.  There are no discussion about morale (excerpt that bit about nepotism as being bad for morale), or spouse employment (no spouses looking for jobs?), or schools (no dependents go to school there?). What about the embassy Health Unit? Is it good, bad, non-existent?

Summary of Findings:

  • The Ambassador steers the United States-Uzbekistan engagement in constructive ways, including the signing of agreements on counter-narcotics and the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
  •   Washington end-users uniformly expressed satisfaction with Political/Economic Section reporting that provides the information needed to understand the United States- Uzbekistan relationship.
  •   American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
  •   The Consular Section did not comply with non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards, visa referral management and referral procedures, and consular management control requirements.
  •   The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has not addressed the seismic risk by identifying suitable housing with the lowest possible risk to life safety as required by 15 Foreign Affairs Manual 252.6. The embassy has taken steps to prepare its staff for the aftermath of a major earthquake.
  •   The embassy’s social media outreach is limited by its reliance on English, rather than Russian- and Uzbek- language material.
  •   The reporting and supervisory relationships among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regional office, its locally employed staff, the Political/Economic Section, and the Front Office are unresolved and contentious.
  •   Innovative Practice: The embassy produced a no-cost and reliable short message service for employees.

The IG report also includes a section labeled “Tashkent Initiative Worthy of Emulation” which is rather underwhelming. Like  —  we have totally not/not seen this set of activities done elsewhere before! Dear OIG inspection team, c’mon folks — really? Where have you been all this time?

Screen Shot 2016-07-06

 

Excerpts:

American and locally employed staff members in Tashkent described the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in a variety of views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles.
[…]
The Ambassador is aware of her chief of mission responsibilities in accordance with 2 FAM 022.7. She expressed support for internal controls, reminding the staff that fraud and misconduct cannot be tolerated, and reissuing management notices concerning illegal currency exchange and gift acceptance. The embassy has made it clear that action will be taken in accordance with regulations against those who cannot meet ethical standards. In the 14 months prior to the inspection, seven locally employed staff members were dismissed for misconduct or unethical behavior.

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct | American and locally employed embassy staff members told OIG of the Ambassador’s collaborative style, interest in diverse views, and openness to suggestions, in keeping with the Department’s leadership principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (l) 1214. In mission-wide town hall meetings and other fora, the Ambassador has stressed the five values she wants the Mission to exemplify: gratitude, teamwork, partnership, opportunity, and balance.

Lack of a Representation Plan and Uneven Spending | Embassy Tashkent expended approximately $13,000 of its $21,418 in FY 2015 representational funding in the last 2 weeks of the fiscal year.

Interagency Working Groups Not Active | Embassy interagency working groups met infrequently, if at all, reducing their effectiveness in coordinating U.S. Government programs and policies across agencies. Embassy officers told OIG that informal exchanges of information within the mission were sufficient. Chiefs of Mission are charged under 18 FAM 005.1-6b and 18 FAM 005.1-7f with promoting a culture of interagency problem solving and leveraging a wide range of U.S. Government specialized expertise and assets under common objectives. The Law Enforcement Working Group did not meet during FY 2015. Implementation of end-use monitoring for $49.6 million in armored vehicles was not coordinated among embassy offices that could benefit through their participation.

Relationship between Embassy and CDC Office Needs Improvement | The reporting and supervisory relationships among the CDC regional office at U.S. Consulate General Almaty and Embassy Tashkent’s CDC locally employed staff, Political/Economic Section, and Front Office are unresolved and contentious.

Embassy Does Not Use Record Emails | Embassy Tashkent and the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs exchange daily official- informal emails but never use record emails,as required in 5 FAM 443.2, even when the exchanges contain information that facilitates decision making and document policy formulation and execution. The embassy Front Office and the Political/Economic Section report that the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset (SMART), which is meant to record and retain record emails, is too cumbersome to use. Only the Consular Section uses record emails when sending reports on child abductions. Failure to use the SMART system hinders the Department’s ability to retain and retrieve records, as required by the Federal Records Act.

Political/Economic File Management Not in Accordance with Department and Federal Regulations | Embassy Tashkent does not enforce Department and Federal regulations on records management. The Political/Economic Section does not maintain centralized files. Officers have individual files based on their own filing systems that are maintained in personal folders. As a result, these files are not accessible to others and are not archived, retired, or readily retrievable if the action officer is absent or transfers.

Social Media Outreach in English, Not in the Languages of the Host Country | The embassy’s social media outreach is hampered by its lack of Russian- and Uzbek-language material and its reliance on English. Russian media is understandably pervasive in Uzbekistan. A 2010 survey conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found that 90 percent of the population spoke Uzbek and 57–70 percent spoke Russian. English is the main compulsory foreign language taught in schools, but only 1 percent of respondents to a survey of students, teachers, professors, and bureaucrats use and read English. However, as of October, 92 percent of embassy tweets and 100 percent of ambassadorial tweets sent in 2015 were in English, as were the majority of Facebook entries. Embassy officials said that a strategic decision had been made in the past to offer the embassy’s Facebook and other social media in English.

Non-Compliance with Consular Management Controls | In five areas, the embassy does not comply with management control requirements for overseas posts, as delineated in 7 FAH-1 H-630-660, “Consular Management Controls.” The FAH requires an Accountable Consular Officer (ACO), a Consular Systems Administrator (CSA), and a back-up for each.

Visa Referral Program Not Compliant with Visa Referral Systems Policy | The embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures in the Worldwide Non-Immigrant Visa Referral Policy as described in 9 FAM Appendix K “Visa Referral Systems.” OIG found referral form or data entry errors in 39 (45 percent) of the 86 visa referral cases adjudicated in FY 2015. In 58 cases (67 percent), the case notes did not document properly the validity of the referral or the adjudicating officer’s decision. FAST officers adjudicated a total of 41 referral cases, including 33 cases that should have been adjudicated by the Consular Section Chief. The section’s annual validation study on 2014 referrals was 4 months overdue. These errors occurred because the embassy did not comply with the visa referral management and referral procedures. A non-compliant referral program inhibits the ability to identify individual instances or patterns of fraud or abuse.

Visa Adjudication Reviews are Not Compliant with Standards | The embassy does not comply with the non-immigrant visa adjudication review standards in 9 FAM 41.113 PN17 (Review of Visa Issuances) and 9 FAM 41.121 N2.3-7 (Internal Review of Refusals), which require that reviews be performed on the day of issuance or refusal, or as soon as possible thereafter. OIG examined FY 2015 adjudications through September 20, 2015. The adjudication reviews of visa issuances did not meet the review standards for 73 percent of the 219 work days on which visas were issued and for 76 percent of the 184 work days on which visas were refused. The Regional Consular Officer based in Frankfurt reported to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the embassy that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between December 12, 2014, and May 26, 2015. OIG found that the Consular Section Chief had not conducted any reviews between July 2, 2015, and September 20, 2015. Systematic, regular reviews of non-immigrant visa adjudications are an important management and instructional tool to maintain the highest professional standards of adjudications. Such reviews also ensure uniform and correct application of law and regulations and enhance U.S. border security. Absent such reviews, adjudicator training and uniformity of adjudications can be irregular and border security compromised.

Seismic Studies of Embassy Housing | Embassy personnel occupy eight residences that received seismic hazard rating of “Very Poor” and eight residences that received seismic ratings of “Poor” in a 2012 Bureau of Overseas Operations (OBO) study. Embassy personnel occupy 38 (of a total of 54) residences that have not been evaluated for seismic adequacy, as required by 15 FAM 252.6. Tashkent is located in an active seismic zone. An earthquake almost completely destroyed the city in 1966. The OBO Natural Hazard program categorizes Tashkent as has having a “very high” seismic risk. In accordance with 15 FAM 252.6d, embassies in high-risk seismic areas must address the seismic adequacy of residential units and seek housing that is the best suited for high-risk seismic areas. OBO has not addressed the findings of the 2012 study to reduce the seismic risk of the housing pool.

Read the whole report here: Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF).

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A separate but related note, we received the following email in our inbox:

Uzbekistan not only has a politically repressive government but a one with a poor understanding of market economics. Uzbekistan pegs its currency, the soum, to the dollar resulting in a currency black market. While the official exchange rate is 3000 soum to a dollar, in reality it’s closer to 6500 and the gap keeps growing. Local prices of course reflect the black market rate.

The Embassy has decided to not allow American staff to use the exchange rate citing some sort of regulation. Not only that, but after a letter from the host government urging diplomats to use the official exchange rate, the ambassador asked the FMO [financial management officer] to monitor cashier withdrawals of employees to ensure they are not using the black market rate.

Fun community policing! Very Uzbek in style!

Well, there is indeed “some sort of regulation” on this.

According to the FAH, the Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary. Here’s the cite:

4 FAH-3 H-361.3-2  Compliance With Laws and Regulations
(CT:FMP-82;   09-04-2013)

Whenever accommodation exchange services are established, the Chief of Mission or designee takes actions necessary to assure that all accommodation exchange is performed in full compliance with U.S. Government and host government laws and regulations; and that all American Government personnel are familiar with the provisions in 3 FAM 4123 and 22 CFR 1203.735-206, Economic and Financial Activities of Employees Abroad.  The Chief of Mission has the authority to require all U.S. Government employees to obtain their foreign currency through U.S. Government facilities when the Chief of Mission deems it necessary in order to assure full compliance.

See more here.

Note that 3 FAM 4123.1 specifically prohibits a U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member from engaging in “transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission.”

3 FAM 4123.1  Prohibitions in Any Foreign Country
(TL:PER-491;   12-23-2003)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Foreign Service National, and Civil Service)

A U.S. citizen employee, spouse, or family member is prohibited from engaging in the following activities while present in any foreign country:

(1)  Speculation in currency exchange;

(2)  Transactions at exchange rates differing from local legally available rates, unless such transactions are duly authorized in advance by the Chief of Mission;

(3)  Sales to unauthorized persons (whether at cost or for profit) of currency acquired at preferential rates through diplomatic or other restricted arrangements;

(4)  Transactions which entail the use of the diplomatic pouch or other official mail without official authorization;

(5)  Transfers of blocked funds in violation of U.S. foreign funds and assets control;

(6)  Independent and unsanctioned private transactions which involve an employee as an individual in violation of applicable currency control regulations of the foreign government; and

(7)  Except as part of official duties, acting as an intermediary in the transfer of private funds from persons in one country to persons in another country, including the United States.

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Related items:

OIG Limited Scope Review – US Embassy Uzbekistan 2008 (PDF)

Inspection of Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan, March 2016 (PDF)

 

US Embassy Venezuela: Appointment Wait Time For Visas Now at 999 Days

Posted: 1:41 am ET

Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced that it is no longer able to provide new appointments for first-time business or tourist (B-1/B-2) visa applicants due to staff shortages. Apparently, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for Embassy personnel.  So, there you go.  Limited numbers of appointments are available for other temporary visas, and immigrant visas will continue to be processed but Venezuelans interested in visiting or conducting business in the United States will have to review their plans given the length of the wait time to get a visa appointment. Below is an excerpt from the embassy announcement:

If you are applying for a renewal of your valid U.S. visa or are a first-time applicant for any of the petition-based, student, or investor visas (E, F, J, M, H, I, L, O, P, Q, R, T, U), limited numbers of appointments for those visa types will be made available.  Unfortunately, due to limited staff, wait times for these appointments will be much longer than in the past. During this time, we continue to offer appointments for immigrant visa applicants as these cases become ready for interview.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for U.S. Embassy personnel, resulting in staff shortages throughout the Embassy and also preventing visits by technicians to maintain, upgrade and repair our consular computer systems.  For many months, we have not had sufficient embassy personnel to handle the existing workload in Venezuela and, despite our best efforts, large backlogs of visa applications have accumulated.  Once the Foreign Ministry resumes issuing visas for U.S. diplomatic personnel, and those staff members are able to start working, we will begin to restore full visa services to the Venezuelan public.  We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to maintain our previous high standard of service to the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens who visit the U.S. Embassy in Caracas each year.  We ask for your understanding and cooperation as we all work to overcome the many challenges during the current difficult times.

Screen Shot 2016-06-26

 

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Visa Fraudsters Who Recruited H-1B workers For the “Bench” Get 87 Months in Federal Prison

Posted: 3:35 am ET

Via DOJ/Northern District of Texas:

Atul and Jay Nanda Used Their Corporation, Dibon Solutions in Carrollton, Texas, to Commit Fraud Through H-1B Visa Program to Create a Low-Cost Workforce

DALLAS — Two brothers who were convicted at trial in November 2015 on felony offenses stemming from a conspiracy they ran to commit visa fraud to secure a low-cost workforce at their information technology consulting company headquartered in Carrollton, Texas, were sentenced today to lengthy federal prison terms, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Atul Nanda, 46, and his brother, Jiten “Jay” Nanda, 45, were each sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn to 87 months in federal prison.  Each was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, one count of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, and four counts of wire fraud.  The brothers, who have been on bond, were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Dibon Solutions is an information technology consulting company located on Chenault Drive in Carrollton; it is a family operation created by the Nanda family.  Atul and Jiten Nanda created, established, and ran the corporation that they used to commit fraud through the H1-B visa program.

“The H-1B visa program is a powerful and positive tool for businesses and foreign workers alike when properly used,” said U.S. Attorney Parker.  “When employers abuse the program, however, the foreign workers become a captive stable of cheap labor, victimized to the company’s financial benefit.”

“This federal investigation uncovered Dibon’s deeply rooted conspiracy of maximizing its profits at all costs,” said Katrina W. Berger, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Dallas.  “These two brothers created a highly profitable, and highly illegal business model at the extreme expense of the alien workforce that they recruited.  In addition, this same illegal business model operated at an unfair advantage to Dibon’s competition since it had a much lower operating overhead.”

The H-1B visa program allows businesses in the U.S., such as Dibon, to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialized or technical expertise in a particular field such as accounting, engineering, or computer science.

The Nanda brothers recruited foreign workers with expertise who wanted to work in the U.S.  They sponsored the workers’ H-1B visa with the stated purpose of working at Dibon headquarters in Carrolton, but, in fact, did not have an actual position at the time they were recruited and knew the workers would ultimately provide consulting services to third-party companies located throughout the U.S.  Contrary to representations made by the conspirators to the workers (and the government), Jay and Atul Nanda directed that the workers only be paid for time spent working at a third-party company and only if the third-party company actually first paid Dibon for the workers’ services.  Additionally, in Dibon’s visa paperwork, the conspirators falsely represented that the workers had full-time positions and were paid an annual salary, as required by regulation to secure the visas.

This scheme provided the conspirators with a labor pool of inexpensive, skilled foreign workers who could be used on an “as needed” basis.  The scheme was profitable because it required minimal overhead and Dibon could charge significant hourly rates for a computer consultant’s services.  Thus, the Nandas, as Dibon’s owners, earned a substantial profit margin when a consultant was assigned to a project and incurred few costs when a worker was without billable work.  This scheme is known as “benching.”  Dibon actively recruited H-1B workers for the “bench.”

The Nandas required the H-1B visa candidates to pay the processing fees that the law requires to be paid by the company. The Nandas attempted to hide this, however, by having the H-1B candidates pay the fees directly to Dibon either with cash or a check written to “Dibon Training Center.”

The three other defendants charged in the case, Siva Sugavanam, 37, Vivek Sharma, 48, and Rohit Mehra, 39, who each pleaded guilty before trial to one count of aiding and abetting visa fraud, were each sentenced earlier this month by Judge Lynn to two years’ probation.  Sugavanam was the lead recruiter for Dibon; Sharma acted as Dibon’s office manager; and Mehra recruited employees for the bench and transported benched employees to and from Dibon Headquarters.  All three had knowledge of and/or involvement in the filing of false documents with the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in securing recruits’ employment with Dibon.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HSI and the U.S. Department of State.

Original announcement is posted here.

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Burn Bag: We aren’t even trying to hide this stuff anymore? Bwaaah!

Via Burn Bag:

Job Title:    Visa Analyst    
Job Category:     Non-Exempt
Location:    Washington, DC    
Travel:    N/A
Level/Salary Range:    NEGOTIABLE    
Position Type:    Full Time
Date posted:    April 29, 2016

Job Description: Summary: Immediate full time requirement – CA/VO Visa Analyst – in support of the U.S. Department of State (DOS), Counselor Affairs/Visa Office. Final Top Secret Security Clearance required and candidate must meet eligibility criteria to be granted access to Sensitive Compartmented Information when/if required. The Visa Analyst provides support to the Government staff and prepares letters, reports, and specialized correspondence. A Government manager will provide day-to-day oversight and direction.   

“We aren’t even trying to hide anymore that we plan to supervise the employees of third party contractors [TPCs].  This insidious practice ultimately denies opportunities to government employees who miss out on training and conference experiences when the employees of third party contractors attend instead.  Why do we offer training to these employees of TPCs when they were supposed to already be trained?”

plsmakeitstop

Via media.riffsy.com

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