US Embassy Costa Rica Sub-Contractor Gets 30 Months For Stealing USG Funds #VisaFees

This past July, we blogged about US Embassy Costa Rica’s sub-contractor who leaded guilty to the theft of visa fees (see What did we miss?).  On September 7, USDOJ announced that the contractor, Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft of government funds.

Via USDOJ:

Charleston, South Carolina —- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced today that Mauricio Andulo Hidalgo, age 43, of Costa Rica, was sentenced to a term of 30 months in prison by the United States District Court in Charleston for stealing from the United States Government.

Hidalgo previously pled guilty to Theft of Government Funds, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641.  United States District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy, of Charleston, imposed the sentence, which also includes three years of supervised release and mandatory restitution.

Evidence presented at a change of plea hearing established that Hidalgo used his position as President of SafetyPay-Central America to steal over $293,832 of government funds that were supposed to be transferred to a bank account maintained by the Department of State’s Global Financial Services Center in Charleston.  SafetyPay-Central America had been hired as a subcontractor to handle the processing of visa application fees for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica.  As part of the scheme, Hidalgo diverted the funds from a SafetyPay bank account in Costa Rica to another Costa Rican account under his sole control.

The case was investigated by special agent Katherine Kovacek of the Department of State/Office of Inspector General, which is led by Inspector General Steve A. Linick.  Assistant United States Attorneys Marshall “Matt” Austin and Nathan Williams both of the Charleston Office prosecuted the case.

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Congress Authorizes Petition Fee Increases For Certain L-1 and H1B Visas Until Sept 30, 2025

Posted: 3:05 am EDT
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A section of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes an item on the temporary increase of “visa fee” for L-1 and H1B, as well as extensions.  The processing fee for petition based visa categories like L (Intracompany Transferees) and H (Temporary Workers/Employment or Trainees) visas is currently posted on travel.state.gov at $190.00. It looks like the bump in fees is really for the L-1 and H1B visa petition fees (with DHS) and not for the visa processing fees collected by the State Department.

The new law talks about the “combined filing fee and fraud prevention and detection fee” which are fees already collected by DHS.  Under Pub. L. 111-230, DHS/CIS charges $2,000  for H-1B petitioners that employ 50 or more employees in the United States with more than 50 percent of their employees in the United States in H-1B, L-1A or L-1B nonimmigrant status. Under the same law, L1 petitioners are also charged $2250. Both provisions ended on October 1, 2014, but were extended through September 30, 2015 by Pub. L. 111-347. The temporary bump in the L1 and H1B petition fees under Public Law No: 114-113 that just passed will be good until September 30, 2025.

‘‘SEC. 411. 9-11 RESPONSE AND BIOMETRIC ENTRY-EXIT FEE.

‘‘(a) TEMPORARY L-1 VISA FEE INCREASE.—Notwithstanding section 281 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1351) or any other provision of law, during the period beginning on the date of the enactment of this section and ending on September 30, 2025, the combined filing fee and fraud prevention and detection fee required to be submitted with an application for admission as a nonimmigrant under section 101(a)(15)(L) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(L)), including an application for an extension of such status, shall be increased by $4,500 for applicants that employ 50 or more employees in the United States if more than 50 percent of the applicant’s employees are nonimmigrants admitted pursuant to subparagraph (H)(i)(b) or (L) of section 101(a)(15) of such Act.

‘‘(b) TEMPORARY H-1B VISA FEE INCREASE.—Notwithstanding section 281 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1351) or any other provision of law, during the period beginning on the date of the enactment of this section and ending on September 30, 2025, the combined filing fee and fraud prevention and detection fee required to be submitted with an application for admission as a nonimmigrant under section 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b)), including an application for an extension of such status, shall be increased by $4,000 for applicants that employ 50 or more employees in the United States if more than 50 percent of the applicant’s employees are such nonimmigrants or nonimmigrants described in section 101(a)(15)(L) of such Act.

‘‘(c) 9-11 RESPONSE AND BIOMETRIC EXIT ACCOUNT.—‘‘(1) ESTABLISHMENT.—There is established in the general fund of the Treasury a separate account, which shall be known as the ‘9–11 Response and Biometric Exit Account’.

‘‘(2) DEPOSITS.—

‘‘(A) IN GENERAL.—Subject to subparagraph  (B), of the amounts collected pursuant to the fee increases authorized under subsections (a) and (b)—

‘‘(i) 50 percent shall be deposited in the general fund of the Treasury; and

‘‘(ii) 50 percent shall be deposited as offsetting receipts into the 9–11 Response and Biometric Exit Account, and shall remain available until expended.

‘‘(B) TERMINATION OF DEPOSITS IN ACCOUNT.—After a total of $1,000,000,000 is deposited into the 9–11 Response and Biometric Exit Account under subparagraph (A)(ii), all amounts collected pursuant to the fee increases authorized under subsections (a) and (b) shall be deposited authorized under subsections (a) and (b) shall be deposited in the general fund of the Treasury.

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On Friday the 13th – New US Visa Processing Fees Go Boo!

The State Department recently announced that effective today, April 13, 2012, it will adjust visa processing fees for both nonimmigrant and immigrant visas:

The fees for most nonimmigrant visa applications and Border Crossing Cards will increase, while all immigrant visa processing fees will decrease.

The Department is required to recover, as far as possible, the cost of processing visas through the collection of application fees. For a number of reasons, the current fees no longer cover the actual cost of processing nonimmigrant visas. The nonimmigrant visa fee increase will support the addition and expansion of overseas facilities, as well as additional staffing required to meet increased visa demand.

Although most categories of nonimmigrant visa processing fees will increase, the fee for E visas (treaty-traders and treaty-investors) and K visas (for fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens) will decrease.

See the full announcement and new immigrant visa processing fees here.

We can understand bringing down the visa processing fees for fiance visas, the petitioners are all American citizens. But how is it that E visa processing fee is down from $350 to $240, we cannot quite understand. Granted that those folks are investing money in the United States and helping themselves and the US economy but it’s not like there is less work when processing those treaty investor and trader visas; I mean, have those cases become less complicated recently that the actual cost of processing those visas are calculated at $120 dollars less?

And because it is only be a matter of time before there’s a run for the money —

AllAfrica reported that the Embassy of the Republic of Sierra Leone in Washington D.C announced on April 2 that effective Friday, April 13th, 2012, the visa processing fee for United States of America (USA) passport holders will also be $160.

Note that based on the Visa Reciprocity Schedule neither the United States nor Sierra Leona charge a visa fee, that is a visa issuance fee. But it looks like both will now charge $160 for visa processing or a visa application fee, a fee that is normally a nonrefundable fee paid by all applicants, whether the application is approved or refused.

9 FAM 41.111 note that it is “Department practice [  ] to discount from our reciprocity fee calculations the amount of our machine-readable visa (MRV) fee from any fee charged by the host government. For example, if the host government charges American citizens (Amcits) $150 to apply for a visa, our reciprocal issuance fee for nationals of that country would appropriately be set at $19 ($150 minus the $131 MRV fee).”

The Embassy of Belarus in Washington, D.C. for instance also says that “Consular fees for visas to enter Belarus for US citizens are based on the principle of reciprocity.”

For visas with validity up to 1 year, and a period of stay up to 90 days, it charges U.S. citizens $ 390 for 5-day processing, and $ 780 for 48-hour expedited service.  Oh, holy guacamole!  And we charge Belarusian citizens issued US visas currently $140 visa processing fees and $100 visa issuance fees for one year multiple entry travel or business visas. The reciprocity is obviously clear to see.

So can we reasonably expect that the processing fee at other embassies will go up just as well?

Domani Spero