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View All Transcripts: Ask the Ambassador | Ask the State Department

Welcome to "Ask the State Department" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to State Department officials.

Andrew Simkin discussed how the U.S. prevents illegal entry to the country. These efforts include developing fraud prevention technology, providing prevention tools and equipment and working with other government entities around the world.

Andrew Simkin, Director of the Office of Fraud Prevention Programs
Andrew Simkin, Director of the Office of Fraud Prevention Programs

Event Date: February 2, 2006

Andrew Simkin

Thank you to all who submitted questions on the topic of the Department of State’s Fraud Prevention Program prevents illegal entry to the United States through fraud prevention tools and technology and working with other governments around the world. I am happy to see so much interest in this topic, and I hope all will learn about our latest efforts through our question-and-answer session.

I’m also encouraged that we received so many thoughtful questions on other subjects. While I won’t be able to address them in this chat, I want to provide some internet resources where you can find answers. The State Department provides information on travel conditions, passports, visa and other subjects on our consular affairs web site, http://travel.state.gov.

Our colleagues in the Department of Homeland Security work diligently to control and maintain our borders, and their web site, www.dhs.gov, has information about their work. You may find information about the admission process, as well as U.S. customs regulations, from DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov). And DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (www.uscis.gov) has information about permanent residence and naturalization.

George from Colorado writes:

I am a retired Diplomatic Security agent and I was always amazed of the attitude consular officers had in dealing with visa fraud and the documentation from the local visa mills - most located close to the consulate. Granted the visa isn't issued when the false documents are detected but seldom is the applicant immediately reported to the RSO and/or local police. These are easy cases to prosecute and the image of an bogus applicant being detained/arrested in the waiting room would have a huge impact and possibly cut-back on other false applicants.

Andrew Simkin:


State Department Diplomatic Security agents now provide an unprecedented degree of support to consular sections in taking law enforcement action, when appropriate, in response to visa and passport fraud. Many consular sections now incorporate full-time DS agents dedicated to investigating fraud cases. Some of these cases have led to prosecution in the United States, especially in cases of organized fraud rings. Many other cases turn out to involve violations of host country law, such as, for example, obtaining a host-country passport in a false identity (detected by a consular officer, based on biometrics or other sources) and DS agents are frequently instrumental in working with local police departments to produce exactly the scenario you describe, where the criminal suspect is taken into custody on departure from the consular section. This does not happen every day, but when it does, the deterrent effect is considerable.

I think, George, if you talk with currently active DS agents, they will tell you that prosecutors both in the U.S. and in foreign countries are now very interested in pursuing cases of visa and passport fraud. This kind of fraud is now seen not only as being economically-driven, but as a national security issue.

Nadia from Virginia writes:

What kind of methods you will use to keep bad guys out?

Andrew Simkin:


Consular officers adjudicating visas are focused on applying U.S. law and determining the facts in each application to reach a fair, correct, decision. The burden of proof is on the applicant. The U.S., like any country, has the sovereign right to decide who may enter and who may not.

We want to facilitate legitimate travel, while refusing visas to those who do not legally qualify, including some who may try to get the visa by lying to us. In many cases we can detect visa fraud, without knowing the motivation for the fraud. A person may be lying because he hopes to use the visa to enter the U.S. and work illegally. Or he may be intending to commit a violent crime. Even though we may not know the reason that an applicant commits fraud, our answer is the same: no visa. The techniques that consular officers use to fight fraud are varied. Probably the best technique is simple: the personal interview. The consular officer may ask all sorts of questions about the applicant's personal situation and reason for travel. Consular officers are trained to observe the applicant's demeanor during the interview to detect signs of emotion or nervousness that may indicate deception.

Consular officers also have access to more sources of data than ever before to corroborate or disprove an applicant's story. Applicants' identities are checked against watch lists and other data using not only their names, but also their fingerprints and computer-based facial recognition screening.

Consular officers and our locally-hired Foreign Service National colleagues also have special training in identifying fraudulent documents.

Most visa applications can be adjudicated to a final decision within a day of the interview. In some cases, however, when fraud is suspected, the consular officer may conduct an investigation using sources outside the application. For example, if an applicant is suspected of seeking to immigrate to the U.S. based on a marriage of convenience, the consular section may seek to confirm whether the couple have actually been living together.

We have a large and growing number of techniques and sources of information to combat fraud, but the most important element is good judgment. All that information needs to be evaluated by an intelligent, fair-minded, but skeptical consular officer. I know that we don't get every decision right, but the Foreign Service officers who are selected by the State Department to do this work are among the most talented and motivated people that America has to offer.

Paul from London, United Kingdom writes:

I understand that U.S. law penalizes individual visa applicants who commit fraud in the course of making a visa application. Are you doing anything to penalize employers who engage in fraud in the course of obtaining visas for their employees?

Andrew Simkin:


As you mention, individual applicants who commit fraud are likely not only to be refused the visa, but may also be found permanently ineligible under U.S. law for any type of visa in the future.

Employer fraud is also a big issue for us. What sometimes happens is that a phony company will be set up to petition for employment visas for foreign workers who just want a way to enter the U.S. and have no intention of working for that company. In other cases people will falsely claim to represent a legitimate U.S. company. Sometimes these kinds of fraud are first detected by the consular officer reviewing the visa application. These visas are denied and the petition is returned for follow-up action in the U.S. One very important step that the State Department has taken recently is to centralize processing of these returned petitions at our National Visa Center and Kentucky Consular Center. We now have fraud prevention units at both centers. We work closely with colleagues in the Department of Homeland Security, especially in the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) Office of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS - the authority responsible for adjudicating petitions filed by employers for foreign workers). DHS's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is also a key player, along with the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. We have also found that the U.S. business community is highly motivated to take action, especially when an individual inside or outside a company harms that company's reputation by committing visa fraud. Since employment visas are subject to statutory ceilings, every employment-related visa obtained by fraud takes away a slot for a legitimate worker and his or her legitimate employer.

William from Illinois writes:

How many Visas are issued annually?

Andrew Simkin:


In Fiscal Year 2005, which runs from October 2004 through September 2005, we issued 395,005 immigrant visas and 5,388,937 non-immigrant visas. This data, and other statistics on our visa issuances, are available to the public on the Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/statistics/statistics_2787.html.

Andrew from the U.S. writes:

Will the new anti-terrorism act cause problems with basic human rights and civil liberties?

Andrew Simkin:


There have been several changes to U.S. law in recent years intended to strengthen the visa process to fight terrorism. For example, Congress has mandated the use of biometric identifiers in U.S. visas, and has authorized greater inter-agency data-sharing. It is a basic function of any government to determine the process and parameters required for foreign nationals to enter the country.

Bharti from Illinois writes:

I would like to know how do you deal with fraud marriage cases. I got married in India and found out that he only married to get a green card and he came here got his green card and I divorced him before the two year time ended. Since he entered into this marriage for the wrong reason what would you do with him. I sent all the information to immigration also but never heard anything back from them.

Andrew Simkin:


I am sorry to hear that you were taken advantage of in this way. Your ex-husband's residency status would have been conditional, not permanent, for the first two years. Since your husband apparently did not enter the marriage in good faith, at the expiration of the conditional residency, he will be unable to convert to permanent status based on his marriage to you.

As you apparently know, the State Department is responsible for adjudicating visas overseas, while the Department of Homeland Security administers U.S. immigration law within the United States. You can bring suspicious immigration activity to the attention of DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement by calling 1-866-347-2423.

Paul from New Mexico writes:

Since I live in a border state that is rife with illegal immigration, my teenage children find it hard to find entry level jobs. I fought in Vietnam, for the freedom of existing Americans, not people that merely have to cross a river, hide out with other illegals and start their lives as Americans. They claim they have some sort of God given right to acquire the same benefits many Americans fought to procure. I feel that not enough is being done to stop the super-saturation of New Mexico's meager resources by people who do not deserve them.

Andrew Simkin:


I share your concern about illegal immigration. Fighting visa fraud is one key element of countering illegal immigration.

Eugene from California writes:

I know that the pressure on you is about the many illegals that sneak across the border. I want to help keep the bad guys out too, but those who come her legally and get caught in the system seem to always be excluded from all amnesties, new rulings, contemplations, et c. I ask you to include them also in your thinking.

My wife, who I married 6 years ago, came to the US legally on a K1 visa to another man and followed all of the rules. She received a "parole" to visit her mother when her brother died. Within the parole was a clause that if INS refused her later request for change of status, she would be considered a "landed alien without papers". Not being a lawyer, she did not understand the implicatons of this (as if under stress one would notice the fine print). Her abusive husband refused to go to the INS meetings for her "change of status" review since he was already off looking for a new wife by then. Maybe she could have self petitioned or she could have left then and went home for a new VISA, however on bad advice of her immigration lawyer, she waited for the INS decisions. Of course, they refused her petition which made her a "landed alien without papers".

I married her and petitioned for her as my wife, but INS rules for K1's entries do not allow that. It was passed then it to the State Department. She has received an invitation from the State Department to go home for a VISA, but no one in the State Department or INS will answer if the "10 year bar" applies because of the potential "unlanded alien" status and she therefore also is not eligible for voluntary departure (another Catch 22).

Andrew Simkin:


Under law, we have a strict rule that we can not adjudicate a visa without receiving an application and having a chance to conduct an interview, review the documents, and carefully consider all the facts. You may wish to consult a lawyer who specializes in immigration law.

Elena from New York writes:

To visit, for what country do you need an American passport?

Andrew Simkin:


I recommend that you get an American passport for any travel outside the United States. The passport identifies you and confirms your citizenship, both for the foreign officials when you enter their country, and for U.S. officials when you return home. You can find more information on our consular web site, http://travel.state.gov.

Ino from Tampa, Florida writes:

I'm a Puerto Rican, do I need a passport to travel to the continental USA?

Andrew Simkin:


No, as an American citizen, you don't need a passport to travel from Puerto Rico to the continental USA.

John from Florida writes:

I understand this forum is about entry controls, but I am concerned with a possible child abduction. I have already contacted the Abductions unit. I sent in a FAX for the flagging of my son. I have not heard anything back from them to see if everything is OK with the paperwork submitted. How can I find out if everything is set up for his monitoring?

Andrew Simkin:


I would suggest you follow up with the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues at (202) 736-9156 for more information. This phone number is available for citizens who wish to consult with our specialists in our Child Abduction Prevention Unit.

Ana from the Dominican Republic writes:

I understand that we have to secure our country and keep the bad guys out, but what do my three children 14, 12 and 10 have to do with your fight against the bad guys, I presented my self to the United States Consulate to obtain passports for my children to comply with the new passport requirements and I was asked several documents after presenting this documents the consular officer in a racist tone asked me for medical records of 10 plus years, my question is I am a United States Citizen my kids are United States Citizen by Birth since two of the are born in Puerto Rico and one in Pennsylvania, now I am stranded in the Dominican Republic since it will take more than 3 month to produce this record, are my kids less U.S. Citizens or did they loosed U.S. Citizenship by not having this record in hand, are this regulations laws that can be enforced on citizens and is it legal for the United States to leave 3 United States Citizens stateless contrary to International Laws and contrary to the Constitution and Laws of the United States, should I suit the government since the burden of proof is on the government to proof if this is the case that I am violating U.S. Laws or that my kids are not my kids, I am ready to challenge this laws and if your racist department believe I am not the mother of my child I am ready to take a DNA test, I will also challenge that your requirement are not Uniform since it requires for example in Canada less paperwork than it requires in the Dominican Republic, this is both illegal and racist, For your information I presented to the U.S. Consular Officials my kids Birth certificates, Pictures (One that includes a picture with the Governor of Puerto Rico) of them in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and I presented my U.S. Passport. in a few days I will go on strike in front of the U.S. Consulate, file a federal law suit in Federal Court in Puerto Rico and if I am doing anything wrong I would like to be arrested.

Andrew Simkin:


Unfortunately, we have seen many fraudulent claims to U.S. citizenship by persons presenting someone else's U.S. birth certificate. You will have to work directly with the consular section at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo to show that yours is not such a case.

Tamas from Budapest, Hungary writes:

Since visa reciprocity is clearly not part of US policy regarding visas, what is US policy then if EU countries or any other state for that matter decide to impose reciprocal measures for entry eligibility by American citizens? Here such things as fingerprinting, the use of advanced passenger information and detention and removal at the port of entry when a border official refuses entry, visa or no visa.

Andrew Simkin:


Biometrics, such as facial recognition and fingerprints, are an important part of our fraud prevention program. Using these advanced tools helps us ensure that travelers to the United States are the persons they say they are, which is important in ensuring the integrity of the visa and admission process, and the security of residents in and visitors to the United States.

Rusty in North Carolina writes:

What can law enforcement officials do to maintain the integrity of State Department and validate any and all people carrying visas and passports?

Andrew Simkin:


I would have to refer you to the Department of Homeland Security, which would be the liaison authority with local law enforcement regarding the status of foreign nationals in the United States. The State Department shares visa data electronically with DHS so that DHS can verify visa records. DHS’s web site is www.dhs.gov.

Monica from Orlando, Florida writes:

After meeting several women in the U.S. (Orlando) as granted by K1-fiancee visas, I am curious. It seems quite cumbersome to monitor the validity of the marriage status, the "true" reason for a person's K1 application and if the person who is invited to stay under K1 is being treated humanely. How are you able to address these issues?

Andrew Simkin:


Fiancee relationships can be complicated for both partners, each trying to evaluate the other's intentions. That is even more true when the relationship involves a visa. When we adjudicate such visas, we try to spot not only cases in which both parties intend only a sham relationship for visa purposes, and cases in which a U.S. citizen is being deceived by a foreign national seeking only a visa. It is also important to guard against any potential mistreatment or exploitation of the visa recipient.

Margatete from Michigan writes:

I was wondering if when applying for a passport and a person has stolen your driver's license and other identity if it is possible for them to get a passport with there picture but they are using your name.

Andrew Simkin:


Identity theft can potentially include an attempt by the thief to obtain identity documents including a passport in the stolen identity. However, confirmation of identity is one of the key elements in passport adjudication by consular officers overseas and by State Department passport examiners at U.S. domestic passport agencies.

Denis from the U.S. writes:

I heard about possibility illegally obtaining U.S. citizenship via technical communities contacts, how you will fight it and corruption within?

Andrew Simkin:


Internal corruption is a threat to any adjudication process, and we have seen such instances. Visa and passport fraud constitute criminal offenses. The State Department uses an extensive array of internal controls and technical measures to prevent malfeasance, and we have a zero tolerance policy. The Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security has worked effectively with federal prosecutors to obtain convictions for visa and passport fraud.

Wendy from Virginia writes:

Why don't we have a biometric/picture identification as well as SSN for every U.S. citizen then when aliens come in there would be a way to know if they are in the system or not?

Andrew Simkin:


We take fingerprints and a photo of aliens, both when they apply for a visa, and again when they arrive at a U.S. port of entry and are screened by DHS' Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. The data obtained in this way is shared appropriately within the U.S. government.

Mandy from Michigan writes:

Has USAFIS (www.usafis.org) been authorized by the government to register individuals for the US Green Card lottery program for a fee?

Andrew Simkin:


The Diversity Visa Lottery program, established by Congress, is administered by the Department of State. Foreign applicants may register for the program directly, on-line, without any intermediary. The Department of State has not enlisted or authorized any third parties to assist in this process. More information is available at http://travel.state.gov.

The public should be aware that there have been several attempts to defraud Diversity Visa Lottery entrants. Lottery entrants selected as winners in the Diversity Visa random drawing are notified only by the Department of State's Kentucky Consular Center. No other organization or company is authorized by the Department of State to contact winning entrants.

Joseph from Illinois writes:

How thoroughly does the State Department investigate applications for student visas? Does the State Department feel confident that the information gathered is sufficiently accurate and extensive to keep Islamic militants or radicals out of the country? Thank you for your time and the chance to interact with a State Department representative.

Andrew Simkin:


Foreign students bring a lot of benefits to the U.S., in many ways, including enriching the experiences of their American fellow students, and in taking back a much better understanding of the U.S. to their home countries after they graduate. However, we see fraud in this visa category, as we do in every other category, and we need to be vigilant. Since September 11, in addition to various changes such as biometrics and stricter personal appearance requirements that affect all applicants, we have added a special supplemental form to collect additional information on students for better screening. We have also supported our DHS colleagues in creating a comprehensive database called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) which links educational institutions, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State, to corroborate student visa applicants' acceptance by a U.S. institution and to track foreign students' compliance with eligibility requirements for their non-immigrant status.

Any type of visa could potentially be targeted by hostile terrorist groups as a way to enter the U.S. to do bad things. We have an unprecedented level of intelligence-sharing and U.S. government interagency cooperation to combat such threats. I would note also that every anti-fraud measure we employ in the visa process is in effect an anti-terrorism measure, since visa fraud could be perpetrated by a terrorist or any other type of criminal.

Robert from Texas writes:

My question is if a foreign person enters the United States is he/she required by the U.S. customs department to have an amount of $500.00 with them when they enter the country required by US law?

Andew Simkin:


No, there is no such legal requirement. However, DHS' Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has the final say over admission of foreign nationals to the U.S. at ports of entry, and admission may be denied for a variety of legal reasons. You can find more information at www.cbp.gov.

John from Israel writes:

Dear Sir or Madam: Kindly let me know if a winner of American Lottery should have a Criminal Check Report in his or her native country? Likewise, let know if I and my wife should have the Criminal Check Report?

Andew Simkin:


Yes, we require a criminal history as part of every immigrant visa application. Prospective immigrants receive further details on these requirements as part of correspondence from the State Department prior to the interview. You may find further information at http://travel.state.gov.

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