Visa Processing Procedures Pose a Risk To U.S. Immigration

Internal United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) procedures for visa processing put the US at risk.

On January 5, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General released “The Effects of United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Adjudication Procedures and Policies on Fraud Detection by Immigration Services Officers.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) requested this report in October 2010 based on concern about USCIS efforts to process requests for immigration benefits while protecting the system from fraud. 

Reading this report, it is clear there is a potential that intentional or unintentional misinterpretations or violations of visa processing procedures could result in visa applications being approved where evidence indicates approval should not be granted.

Immigration Service Officers (ISO) are evaluated by the number of applications processed. While this basis for evaluation was changed in 2011 to focus on quality and national security, the changes haven’t been implemented or communicated to ISOs.  ISOs still feel pressure to perform and approval takes far less time than denial to process. Fifty-one percent of those interviewed said USCIS stresses immigration over security, only 10% said they’ve enough time to properly process an application, and 24% said they’ve been pressured to approve questionable applications in direct violation of the Adjudicator’s Field Manual. There is little direct interaction between Immigration Officers and ISOs so if a question arises it is difficult for the ISO to get an answer. Seventy percent of those interviewed expressed this concern. The results of this are obvious. To maintain performance, details are missed or overlooked and people who shouldn’t be issued visas are allowed to enter the United States. 

There is difficulty identifying all aliases. The Adjudicator’s Field Manual requires an ISO to meet with the applicant before the application can be approved or denied. There are currently 17 separate data bases containing information on foreign nationals. While internal review staff analyzes cases where ISOs may have missed an alias, the process is labor intensive. The 9/11 hijackers used 364 different aliases.

If ISOs needs more information, a Request For Evidence (RFE) is sent to the applicant. The templates used are not clear on the information being requested. The field manual lists the requirements for Request For Evidence, yet in 2007 USCIS told ISOs to use “correct decision making” and avoid the use of RFE; a direct contradiction of the manual. This also feeds pressure to perform. While this applies to all types of visas, the report specifically mentions L-1A (visa for foreign workers of a company with offices in the U.S.) and O (those with extraordinary ability in science, arts, education, business, or athletics).

USCIS uses a low standard of proof when evaluating applications. ISOs currently use “a preponderance of the evidence,” 50% of the information submitted supports the application.  “Clear and convincing evidence” (>75%) or evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt,” (>95%) should be used given the importance of the ISO’s decision.

Proponents of true immigration reform know the problem is more than people crossing our southern border. Part of the solution is to enforce current immigration laws. However, given this report, there are gaps in the process than must be fixed first.

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