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State Department aims to crack down on visa fraud

The State Department is tightening the rules for one of its visa programs to keep illegal aliens from entering the United States. An interim rule published Friday in the Federal Register aims to prevent people from defrauding the diversity visa lottery program. The State Department holds a lottery each year that allows 50,000 people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States to apply for permanent residence in this country. Over the past few years, some consular offices reported cases of fraud involving the visa process, according to Pam Chavez, consular officer for the State Department's Office of Legislation and Regulations. "There were a lot of abuses in the diversity visa program, people posing to be other than who they are," Chavez said. In those instances, State Department officials issued guidance to the individual consulates on how to avoid issuing visas to imposters.

"It's not a major problem, but different officers come in with questions, and we basically were instructing posts [on a case by case basis] in our cables and such on how to carry out the instructions," Chavez said. To further lessen the chance of imposters receiving a visa, State Department officials decided to convert guidance into regulation. "Basically when we get lots of questions from overseas we try to put it in the regulation and make it a universal [policy]."

Now consular officers must use the Labor Department's O*Net Online Web site to determine an applicant's occupation. The rule also clarifies how to ascertain if an applicant has the equivalent of a high school education and specifies that the photograph submitted with the application must clearly identify the petitioner.

"People who have religious beliefs, they want to take photographs with head coverings and that sort of thing and we don't have any objections to that, but they have to have a photograph where people can identify who that person is," Chavez said.

Comments on the rule must be submitted by Sept. 9, when the interim rule takes effect. Send your comments by fax to (202) 663-3898, via email to VisaRegs@state.gov or through the mail to:

Office of Legislation and Regulations
Visa Office
Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520-0106