oversight

Soviet Refugees: Processing and Admittance to the United States

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-05-09.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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   .               United States

GAO                General Accounting  Office
                   Washington, D.C. 20548

                   National Security and
                   International  Affairs Division

                   B-238005

                   May 9,199O

                   The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
                   Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
                   United States Senate

                   The Honorable Jack Brooks
                   Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
                   House of Representatives

                   The Foreign Operations Appropriations Act for fiscal year 1990, Public
                   Law 101-167, directs GAO to report on the implementation of section
                   599D, pertaining to the processing and admittance of Soviet refugee
                   applicants to the United States during fiscal year 1990. Section 599D,
                   referred to as the Lautenberg Amendment, requires the Executive
                   branch to establish refugee processing categories for Jews, Evangelical
                   Christians, Ukrainian Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox Church mem-
                   bers and gives members of these categories’ an enhanced opportunity to
                   qualify for refugee status when being interviewed.

                   We evaluated the Department of State and Immigration and Naturahza-
                   tion Service (IX’S)efforts to implement the requirements of the
                   Lautenberg Amendment. More specifically, we determined (1) the ade-
                   quacy and timeliness of the adjudication process, (2) the adequacy of
                   staffing for processing refugee applicants, and (3) whether Soviet refu-
                   gee processing in Rome was being effectively phased out. To the extent
                   that information was available, we also compared the cost of conducting
                   refugee processing in both Moscow and Rome*


                       and the Department of State are implementing the Lautenberg
Results in Brief   INS
                   Amendment. We believe INS’ implementing guidance responds to the
                   amendment and potentially provides enhanced consideration of cate-
                   gory cases for refugee status. However, because the amendment does
                   not affect the interview scheduling priorities,” all category members


                   ‘The term “category” has a special meaning within the context of the Refugee Act of 1980. It means
                   that such groups are of special humanitarian interest to the United States because of a hiitoty of
                   mistreatment or persecution in their home countries, and therefore warrant special consideration for
                   refugee status.

                   ‘Refugee applicants are classified within six refugee processing priorities according to whether they
                   have close family or other ties to the United States. This is done to ensure orderly management of
                   refugee admissions and that the refugees of most concern to the IJnited States have admission
                   priority.



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B-23!+006




may not be scheduled for interview. Because INS did not implement its
guidance until February 1,1990, it is too early to assess the overall
impact of the Lautenberg Amendment on fiscal year 1990 Soviet refugee
adjudications.

Moscow processing was on track for meeting its fiscal year 1990 inter-
viewing goals as of mid-March. Whether the operation in Moscow can
sustain existing or meet the higher processing goals in future years
depends upon adequate staffing resources, expanded office space, and
the Soviet Union’s enactment of liberalized emigration legislation.

INS officers were not always sufficiently documenting their reasons for
denying refugee claims. Adequate documentation is important because
when denied claims must be reviewed by other INS officials, the claims
are sustained or reversed on the basis of the documentation. Without
adequate documentation in the files, INS reviewers are unable to deter-
mine whether the officers’ denial decisions were appropriate. INS offi-
cials said that INS would re-emphasize to its interviewing officers the
importance of documenting their adjudication rationale. INS also said it
is now requiring supervisory review of category cases to ensure the
adjudication decision was justified. Similar statements were made in the
past when we alerted INS to documentation problems, but the problem
remained uncorrected overseas.

Phasing out Soviet refugee processing in Rome is proceeding more
quickly than anticipated with most Soviet refugees expected to depart
by June 1990. Refugee departures have been delayed pending INS'
receipt of sponsorship assurances from voluntary agencies in the United
States.

Processing Soviets for refugee status in Moscow, instead of Rome,
enables U.S. officials to better manage the refugee flow into the United
States and reduce refugee processing costs. At least initially, the flow
has been better managed because Moscow processing enables U.S. offi-
cials to establish Soviet refugee admissions ceilings based on US. foreign
policy objectives and budgetary consideration, rather than on the num-
ber of individuals the Soviet government allows to emigrate. It also
allows the U.S. government to give priority to adjudicating Soviet appli-
cants with close family and other ties to the United States, instead of
adjudicating according to the refugee application date.

Although a precise comparison of refugee processing costs between Mos-
cow and Rome is difficult to make, our estimate of the cost to process


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             E238006




             Soviet refugees shows that processing a refugee in Moscow           could be less
             than one-half the cost of processing a refugee in Rome.


             For more than a decade, most Soviets seeking U.S. refugee resettlement
Background   were processed by INS in Rome, Italy. They traveled to Rome either
             through Moscow or through Vienna. Soviets with permission to emigrate
             directly to the United States, mostly Armenians, registered with the U.S.
             Embassy in Moscow, and then traveled to Rome for INS processing. Sovi-
             ets exiting the Soviet Union with Israeli entry visas, mostly Jews, trav-
             eled initially to Vienna, Austria, and then to Rome for INS processing.

             During most of this period, the number of Soviet refugee applicants was
             relatively small. However, as a result of political changes within the
             Soviet Union, the number of Soviets recently applying for refugee reset-
             tlement in the United States has rapidly increased. For example, in fiscal
             year 1987, fewer than 4,000 Soviets applied for refugee admission, but
             by fiscal years 1988 and 1989 the numbers had increased to over 20,000
             and almost 100,000, respectively. State Department officials estimate
             that preliminary questionnaires representing about 800,000 Soviets will
             be received during fiscal year 1990.

             In response to the outflow of Soviet citizens in 1988, the administration
             began to make major policy adjustments to its Soviet refugee program.
             One of the first adjustments occurred in August 1988, when INS began to
             adjudicate refugee claims at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. This adjust-
             ment eliminated the need for Soviets with permission to emigrate
             directly to the United States to travel to Rome for refugee processing.

             A second major adjustment also occurred in August 1988, when the U.S.
             Attorney General issued a policy requiring INS to adjudicate Soviet refu-
             gee applicants on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the INS world-
             wide adjudication standard. Until that time, the United States granted
             nearly automatic refugee status to almost all Soviet citizens wishing to
             emigrate.

             The new policy ended this practice by requiring Soviet refugee appli-
             cants-like all other refugee applicants-to    establish individually that
             they suffered persecution or had a well-founded fear of persecution to
             qualify for refugee status. This change was necessary, according to U.S.
             officials, to bring the Soviet refugee program into compliance with the
             Refugee Act of 1980, as well as to ensure that the limited refugee admis-
             sions available for Soviets were used by bona fide refugees.


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B-238005




In anticipation that some Soviet citizens would be denied refugee status
under the new adjudication practice, the Attorney General extended an
offer of public interest parole to all Soviets found ineligible for refugee
status. Parole status entitles a Soviet to enter the United States but does
not provide U.S. government financial aid or the right to apply for per-
manent resident status, as does refugee status.

Under this standard, INS began to deny Soviets refugee status. During
fiscal year 1989, INS denied refugee status to about 11,500 Soviets in
Moscow and about 5,300 Soviets in Rome. Because some denied Soviets
were from ethnic or religious groups that had historically experienced
discrimination or persecution within the Soviet Union, concerns were
raised by congressional members and others about how consistently the
worldwide standards were being applied. Also, U.S. officials were con-
cerned about the political implications of Soviets remaining indefinitely
in Italy. Few Soviets denied refugee status in Rome were accepting
parole status and most did not wish to emigrate to Israel.

A third major change occurred about a year later. In September 1989,
the administration announced that Rome processing for Soviet refugee
applicants would be phased out. Under the phase-out provisions, only
Soviets with Soviet exit permission to Israel dated before October 1,
1989, and an Israeli entry visa dated before November 6, 1989, would be
processed in Rome. All other Soviets interested in U.S. refugee resettle-
ment would have to be scheduled for INS interviews in Moscow. At the
same time, the Attorney General directed INS to begin adjudicating
Soviet refugee applicants in Rome according to a new, more generous
adjudication standard and to review all previously denied cases in light
of the new standard.

State and INSofficials cited several reasons for the decision to consoli-
date Soviet refugee processing in Moscow, including (1) a recognition
that the United States could not resettle all Soviets wishing to emigrate
from the Soviet Union, (2) the need to better manage the program by
being able to establish Soviet refugee admissions ceilings and give prior-
ity to Soviets with ties to the United States, (3) the high cost of the
Rome processing, (4) concern about the hardship facing Soviets denied
refugee status in Rome, and (5) fairness and consistency concerns result-
ing from two processing locations.

A fourth major change was the enactment of the Lautenberg Amend-
ment in November 1989, requiring the Executive branch to establish



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                    B-238006




                    four refugee processing categories for Soviet applicants processed dur-
                    ing fiscal year 1990.


Implementation of   February 1, 1990, in accordance with INS implementing guidance, dated
Lautenberg          January 24,199O. The new guidance establishes four refugee processing
Amendment           categories for Jews, Evangelical Christians, Ukrainian Catholics, and
                    members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; requires case-by-case adju-
                    dications; and lowers the approval threshold for category members to
                    make it easier for them to qualify as refugees, As the legislation
                    intended, INS is applying the guidance retroactively to all category appli-
                    cants denied refugee status since August 1988. However, because INS did
                    not implement its guidance until February 1, 1990, it is too early to
                    assess the overall impact of the Lautenberg Amendment on fiscal year
                    1990 Soviet refugee adjudications.

                    Fiscal year 1990 is a transition year for Soviet refugee processing, with
                    applicants being processed in both Moscow and Rome. About 45,000 of
                    the 50,000 Soviet refugee admissions authorized in fiscal year 1990 are
                    being processed in Rome (about 31,000 had departed for the United
                    States by March 15, 1990) and the remaining refugee admissions are
                    being processed in Moscow. During fiscal year 1990, before INS imple-
                    mented the Lautenberg Amendment, almost 78 percent of the category
                    applicants interviewed in Moscow were approved for refugee status. In
                    Rome, during the same period, 99 percent of the applicants interviewed
                    (mostly Jews) were approved for refugee status. INS reported that dur-
                    ing February 1990, officers approved refugee status for 90 percent and
                    99 percent of the category members adjudicated in Moscow and Rome,
                    respectively.

                    INS expects to complete interviewing fiscal year 1989 Moscow refugee
                    applicants by December 1990. For fiscal year 1990 registrants, inter-
                    view scheduling priority is being given to those with close family or
                    other ties to the United States or who are of special interest to the
                    United States. Soviets with a low refugee processing priority may never
                    be scheduled for an INS interview. With preliminary questionnaires rep-
                    resenting about 800,000 Soviets expected to be received in fiscal year
                    1990 and a Soviet refugee admissions ceiling of 50,000, it is generally
                    anticipated that only Soviets with high priority processing codes will be
                    interviewed. Soviets with a high interview priority wait about 3 to 6
                    months from the time they submit preliminary questionnaires until the



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                                B-238005




                                INS interview date, and an additional 6 months before departing to the
                                United States, if approved for refugee status.


                      The new procedures for processing in Moscow appear to be working,
New INS Procedures    although not without initial problems The Washington Processing
Appear to Improve the center, established in October 1989, has assumed most of the adminis-
Process, but Some     trative refugee processing functions previously performed by the U.S.
                      Embassy in Moscow. Both the Washington Processing Center and the
Problems Remain       Embassy were meeting their fiscal year 1990 processing goals as of mid-
                               March 1990. A State Department official estimates that 15,000 to 20,000
                               Soviets may be approved for refugee status in Moscow during this fiscal
                               year. Because it currently takes about 6 months to process refugees for
                               travel, those approved after March 1990 will not depart for the United
                               States until fiscal year 1991. However, whether processing in Moscow
                               will meet future refugee admission goals depends upon resolving the
                               chronic staffing shortage in Moscow, expanding and renovating the Mos-
                               cow Embassy office space, and the Soviet Union’s passage of more liber-
                               alized emigration legislation,

                               We also noted that Soviet refugee departures were being delayed
                               because voluntary agency sponsorship assurances were not available.3
                               As of February 28, 1990, about 13,000 refugees were waiting for spon-
                               sorship assurances in Rome and Moscow. Some of these had been wait-
                               ing more than 4 months.

                               We also found that INS interviewing officers were not always sufficiently
                               documenting the rationale for denial decisions in the applicant’s case
                               file, although this is required by INS in its “Worldwide Guidelines for
                               Overseas Refugee Processing” and its January 24, 1990 guidance. With-
                               out such documentation, the case files are incomplete, and INS’ reviewing
                               officials cannot determine the appropriateness of the reasons for deny-
                               ing refugee claims. INS officials informed us this problem would be
                               resolved.


                               Consolidated Soviet refugee plans call for a 22person refugee process-
Adequacy of Staffing           ing unit at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. This staffing level has not been
                               met and, as a result, some processing requirements have been delayed.

                               3Refugees must have sponsorship assurances before departing to the United States. The sponsorship
                               assurances identify the voluntary agency or individual that has agreed to assist the refugee’s resettle-
                               ment in the United States.




                               Page 6                                              GAO/NS~WlSS           Processing   Soviet Refugees
                        B238006




                        Moreover, Embassy and INS officials are concerned that INS officers may
                        not be able to keep abreast of the interviews scheduled in the coming
                        months. On March 23,1990, just prior to when the Washington Process-
                        ing Center would be scheduling applicants for July, the Embassy asked
                        the Center to reduce the number of interviews scheduled daily in July
                        from 72 to 50 families.


                        The phaseout of Soviet refugee processing in Italy is nearing completion.
Phasing Out Soviet      By mid-March 1990, INS had essentially completed interviewing Soviet
Refugee Processing in   refugee applicants and was reducing its staff. Voluntary agencies
Rome                    reported only 120 refugee applications pending submission to INS, and
                        that fewer than 40 Soviets had entered the Vienna/Rome processing
                        route in February 1990. According to INS officials, all Soviets should
                        depart from Rome by June 1990 if voluntary assurances are not
                        delayed.


                        Refugee processing in Moscow will significantly reduce program costs
Cost Comparison of      because Moscow processing does not involve federally funded care and
Processing in Moscow    maintenance expenses or voluntary agencies’ administrative and
and Rome                processing assistance. Such expenses and services, which are incurred in
                        Rome processing, are expected to comprise about 77 percent of the total
                        program cost for processing Soviets in Rome this fiscal year.


                        Because the Lautenberg Amendment requires INS to state, to the maxi-
Recommendations         mum extent feasible, the reason for denying refugee status to category
                        cases, and INS documentation of denial decisions has been a continuing
                        problem, we recommend that the INSCommissioner direct INS supervi-
                        sors to review denied category cases and certify that the documentation
                        is sufficient to support the decision.


                        To meet our legislated requirement, we reviewed pertinent legislation,
Scope and               regulations, and files on Soviet refugees and interviewed State Depart-
Methodology             ment, the Washington Processing Center, and INSofficials. We also inter-
                        viewed representatives of three voluntary agencies involved with Soviet
                        refugees. During January 1990, we visited Moscow and Rome to observe
                        refugee processing, interview INS adjudicating officers, observe refugee
                        interviews, and review refugee case files.




                        Page 7                              GAO/NSIAlMO-168   Pmcessing   Soviet Refugees
 B-238006




We did not obtain agency comments on this report, but we discussed its
contents with State and INS officials, and their comments have been
incorporated where appropriate. Our work was performed between
October 1989 and March 1990 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards.

More detailed information on the administration’s implementation of the
Lautenberg Amendment and refugee processing in Moscow and Rome is
in appendix I.

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of State, the Immi-
gration and Naturalization Service, and other interested parties upon
request.

This report was prepared under the direction of Harold J. Johnson,
Director, Foreign Economic Assistance Issues. He can be reached on
(202) 275-5790 if you have any questions. Other major contributors are
listed in appendix V.




Frank C. Conahan
Assistant Comptroller General




Page 8                              GAO/NSIAD-90-168   Processing   Soviet Fkfugees
Page 9   GAO/NSIAIMW168   F’rocessing   Soviet Refugees
Contents


Letter
Appendix I                                                                                            12
Implementing the       Establishing Refugee Processing Categories                                     12
                       Adjudicating Category Cases                                                    12
Lautenberg             INS Revising Refugee Denial Letter                                             13
Amendment              Reviewing Denied Refugee Claims                                                14
                       Allocating Soviet Refugee Admissions                                           14
                       Refugee Processing in Moscow                                                   14
                       Staffing Problems                                                              18
                       Marginal Facilities                                                            18
                       Soviet Emigration Law Still a Problem                                          19
                       Phasing Out Rome Refugee Processing                                            19
                       Cost Comparison of Refugee Processing in Moscow and                            20
                            Rome

Appendix II                                                                                           21
Centralized Soviet     Registering for Refugee Consideration                                          21
                       Preliminary Processing                                                         21
Refugee Processing     U.S. Embassy and INS Processing Procedures                                     22
Procedures             WPC Post-Interview Processing                                                  22

Appendix III                                                                                          24
Refugee Processing     Priority One (Worldwide)                                                       24
                       Priority Two (Worldwide)                                                       24
Priorities Effective   Priority Three (Worldwide)                                                     24
October 1, 1986        Priority Four (Africa, Eastern European/ Soviet Union,                         24
                            and Latin American Refugees)
                       Priority Five (Worldwide)                                                      24
                       Priority Six (Worldwide)                                                       24

Appendix IV                                                                                           25
Estimated Per Capita
Costs for Soviet
Refugee Processing




                       Page 10                            GAO/NSIAD-90-168   Fhcessing   Soviet Refugees
                        Contents




Appendix V                                                                                               26
Major Contributors to   National Security and International Affairs Division                             26
                             Washington, D.C.
This Report
Tables                  Table IV. 1: Vienna/Rome: Fiscal Year 1990 Estimated Per                         25
                            Capita
                        Table IV.2: Moscow: Fiscal Year 1991 Projected Per                               25
                            Capita

Figure                  Figure I. 1: Comparison of Fiscal Year 1990 Category and                         16
                             Non-Category Groups in Process for Refugee
                             Consideration, by INS Processing Codes




                        Abbreviations

                        ARTS       Automated Refugee Tracking System
                        HIAS       Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
                        INS        Immigration and Naturalization Service
                        WFC        Washington Processing Center


                        Page 11                              GAO/NSIAIMO-168   Processing   Soviet Refugeea
Appendix I

Implementing the Lautenberg Amendment


                        The Lautenberg Amendment directs that the administration establish at
Establishing Refugee    least four categories of Soviet refugee applicants who share common
Processing Categories   characteristics that identify them as targets of persecution in the Soviet
                        Union, including categories for: Jews, Evangelical Christians, and Sovi-
                        ets who are current members of, and demonstrate public, active, and
                        continuous participation (or attempted participation) in the religious
                        activities of the Ukrainian Catholic Church or the Ukrainian Orthodox
                        Church.

                        We found that INSand the Department of State have taken steps to
                        increase INS officers’ background knowledge of category applicants.
                        Country-condition reports concerning the treatment of category mem-
                        bers have been compiled and disseminated to INS officers, and the State
                        Department is routinely providing pertinent information to INS offices in
                        Rome and Moscow. INS officers have attended INS training courses on
                        adjudicating Soviet refugee claims and on implementing the Lautenberg
                        Amendment guidance. During our February 1990 visits to Moscow and
                        Rome, our interviews with INS officers indicated that, overall, they were
                        knowledgeable about conditions in the Soviet Union.


                        The Lautenberg Amendment states that category members may estab-
Adjudicating Category   lish, for purposes of admission as a refugee, that they have a well-
Cases                   founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality,
                        membership in a particular social group, or political opinion by asserting
                        such a fear and asserting a credible basis for concern about the possibil-
                        ity of such persecution.

                        According to INS and State officials, the Amendment language does not
                        establish criteria for adjudicating category cases that are substantially
                        different from the worldwide adjudication standards. However, these
                        official; explained that the legislative history of the Lautenberg Amend-
                        ment indicated that its sponsors intended that a more generous standard
                        be applied in adjudicating category cases. Therefore, INS adopted some
                        of the sponsors’ language pertaining to the types of assertions appli-
                        cants could make to establish a credible basis for a concern about the
                        possibility of persecution in its implementing guidance, issued
                        January 24, 1990. According to INS officials, the burden of proof with
                        respect to having a well-founded fear of persecution nevertheless
                        remains with the refugee applicant.

                        The Lautenberg Amendment, coupled with the new adjudication gui-
                        dance effectively makes it easier for category members to qualify for


                        Page 12                              GAO,‘NSL4D-90-168   Processing   Soviet Refugees
                       Appendix I
                       Implementing   the Lautenberg   Amendment




                       refugee status, although it still does not provide presumptive refugee
                       status. Non-category cases in Moscow continue to be adjudicated in
                       accordance with the INS worldwide adjudication standard. In Rome, the
                       Attorney General’s September 14,1989 guidance governs the adjudica-
                       tion of the few non-category cases.

                       An INS official stated that lowering the approval threshold makes it
                       more difficult to adjudicate category cases because the distinctions
                       between approvable and deniable refugee applications are lessened. This
                       was evident during the first 3 weeks of implementation, when all of the
                       category cases were approved in Moscow. INS supervisors in Moscow
                       were instructed to review all category cases before the decisions are
                       finalized to ensure accurate application of the guidance. 3y the end of
                       February 1990, February’s approval rate in Moscow for category mem-
                       bers was about 90 percent. An INS official said that after INS adjudicators
                       have become accustomed to using the new guidance supervisors will
                       continue to review all denied category cases but will review approved
                       cases on a sample basis only.


                       The Lautenberg Amendment requires that each INS decision to deny ref-
INS Revising Refugee   ugee status to a category applicant be in writing and state, to the maxi-
Denial Letter          mum extent feasible, the reason for the denial. To satisfy this
                       requirement, INS prepared a pro forma denial letter that requires INS
                       officers to check one of the several listed reasons for denying refugee
                       claims.

                       An INS official explained that the adjudicating officer’s case notes must
                       provide the support and rationale for the new denial notification letter.
                       Our review of adjudicated case files in Moscow and Rome showed, how-
                       ever, that some INS officers’ notes did not explain the rationale for deny-
                       ing the case and, thus, could not support a detailed written basis for the
                       denial.

                       INS officials said that insufficient documentation continues to be a prob-
                       lem, although INS training emphasizes the documentation requirement,
                       and supervisors are instructed to evaluate the adequacy of documenta-
                       tion when they review cases. They said that after we brought similar
                       documentation problems to their attention in October 1989,’ INS officers

                       ‘In July 1989, we sampled denied Soviet refugee claims that were s&dicated in Moscow and Rome
                       and determined that the INS officers had provided rationale for their denial decisions in less than 50
                       percent of the cases. We discussed our preliminary findings with INS officials in October 1989.



                       Page 13                                             GAO/NSIALMO-168      Processing   Soviet Refugees
                        Appendix I
                        Implementing   the Lautenberg    Amendment




                        and supervisors in Moscow and Rome were reminded of the require-
                        ments to document all decisions. We were told that INS officers and
                        supervisors would be reminded again about the problem.


                        The amendment requires that category applicants, who were denied ref-
Reviewing Denied        ugee status after August 14, 1988, and before enactment of the legisla-
Refugee Claims          tion, be permitted to reapply for such status. An INS official said that the
                        review was extended to all category applicants denied from August
                        1988 until February 1, 1990. INS established a panel in Rome to review
                        all category cases denied in Moscow and Rome. The panel reviewed 960
                        category applicants (210 Rome applicants and 750 Moscow applicants),
                        in accordance with the new adjudication guidance, and granted refugee
                        status to 620, or about 64 percent, of them.


                        The amendment directs the President to allocate 1,000 of the fiscal year
Allocating Soviet       1990 Soviet refugee admissions to those who are members of the
Refugee Admissions      Ukrainian Orthodox Christian category or the Ukrainian Catholic cate-
                        gory. The 1,000 admissions have been allocated, but administration offi-
                        cials believe that only a very small percentage will be used.

                        Historically, few Ukrainians have applied for refugee status. Although
                        1,000 fiscal year 1990 Soviet refugee admissions have been allocated to
                        Ukrainians, State officials believe that no more than 100 will enter the
                        United States before the end of the fiscal year. Ninety-four fiscal year
                        1990 Ukrainian applicants were scheduled for interviews, as of
                        March 15,1990+


Refugee Processing in    Rome, on October 1, 1989, the administration began implementing new
Moscow                   procedures for processing refugee applicants at the U.S. Embassy in
                         Moscow. These procedures included establishing the Washington
                         Processing Center (WPC) to assist with many of the administrative func-
                         tions associated with refugee processing in Moscow. Soviets register for
                         refugee consideration by submitting preliminary questionnaires,2
                         obtained from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or other sources, to the wnc
                         via international mail or the Embassy. The WPC reviews the preliminary

                         2Preliiary     questionnaires submitted to the WPC since October 1, 1989, are considered to be regis-
                         trations for interview rather than applications for refugee status. Those Soviets who filed for refugee
                         status prior to October 1, 1989, are considered to be applicants, as are Soviets in the Vienna-Rome
                         pipeline.



                         Page 14                                             GAO/NSIAD-90-156      Processing   Soviet Refugees
     Appendix I
     Implementing    the Lautenberg   Amendment




--
     questionnaires for completeness, verifies affidavits of relationships,
     schedules INS interviews, notifies individuals of their interview date, and
     prepares travel documents for refugees and parolees. INS began inter-
     viewing the first wpc-processed cases in January 1990. (See app. 11.)

     wpc is scheduling about 4,000 individuals monthly for INS interview. A
     complete assessment of its capabilities, however, cannot be done until
     applicants processed by wpc begin to arrive in the United States. A WPC
     official estimated that, as of mid-March 1990, preliminary question-
     naires representing about 362,000 Soviets had been received. wpc had
     45,300 individuals in process as of that date.” About 80 percent of the
     individuals in process are category members. Because of the volume of
     preliminary questionnaires, 3 to 6 months may elapse between when a
     questionnaire is mailed to the WPC and when the wpc enters it into the
     automated system.

     On a monthly basis, WPC tries to schedule equal numbers of fiscal year
     1989 and fiscal year 1990 cases for INS interview. Because the demand
     for refugee consideration within these two groups far exceeds the fiscal
     year 1990 Soviet refugee admissions ceiling, WPC schedules Soviets for
     interview in accordance with INS refugee processing priority codes4 and
     the date Soviets submitted their preliminary questionnaires. Those with
     relatives or other ties to the United States, P-l through P-5 processing
     codes, are allocated 80 percent of the monthly interviews. Soviets with-
     out such ties to the United States are designated a P-6 processing code
     and are scheduled for 20 percent of the interviews. Within this percent-
     age, however, interview preference is given to certain types of P-6 Sovi-
     ets including Evangelical Christians, Ukrainians, and Jews with distant
     relatives in the United States or Jews experiencing hardships. Other P-6
     Soviets, who have submitted preliminary questionnaires for refugee
     consideration in fiscal year 1990, may never be interviewed. (See app.
     III for the detailed definitions of the INS processing priority codes.)

     As of mid-March 1990, for fiscal year 1990 cases in progress at wpc,
     about 70 percent of the individuals had the P-6 processing code. Fig-
     ure I.1 compares the processing priority codes for these individuals.


     3The number of preliminary questionnaires does not equal the number of potential Soviets seeldng
     refugee consideration, because only individuals 21 years of age and older are required to submit
     preliminary questionnaires.

     4Refugees are classified within six priorities according to their ties to the United States. This is done
     to ensure orderly management of refugee admissions and that the refugees of most concern to the
     United States have admission priority.



     Page 16                                              GAO/NSW90-168          Processing   Soviet Refugees
                                            Appendix I
                                            Implementing          the Lautenberg   Amendment




Figure 1.1: Comparison of Fiscal Year
1990 Category and Non-Category
Groups in Process for Refugee
Consideration,  by INS Processing Codes




                                               EthniciReligious       Group

                                                                  Priority 1
                                                                  Priority 3
                                                                  Priority 5
                                                                  Priority 6

                                            Note: Refugee processing priorities P-2 and P-4 are not reflected in the bars There were no P-2 Soviets
                                            and only three P-4 Soviets (Jews).

                                            Statistics are based on 45,289 Soviets the WPC had in process as of March 15, 1990.


                                            The INS at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was meeting its fiscal year 1990
                                            monthly interviewing goal as of mid-March 1990. In Moscow, we noted
                                            the following for fiscal year 1990:

                                          . Since the first preliminary questionnaires were distributed in Moscow in
                                            October 1989, demand for them continued, with about 451,000 question-
                                            naires distributed by the Embassy and the WPCas of the end of February
                                            1990,”


                                            %‘reliminary questionnaires are also distributed by voluntary agencies in the United States, but the
                                            questionnaires distributed by the agencies are included in this number.



                                            Page 16                                             GAO/NSIAIMO-158        Processing   Soviet Refugees
    Appendix I
    Implementing         the Lautenberg   Amendment




l wpc notifies Soviets through the international mail and, if possible,
  through relatives in the United States, of their     interview date. About
                                                                   INS


  91 percent of the Soviet applicants scheduled for interview in February
  met their interview appointment.
9 The interview process has been efficient because applicants are submit-
  ting more complete and thorough paperwork than in 1989. Embassy
  officials attribute this improvement to better preparation instructions.
l When we were in Moscow in January 1990, each INS officer was adjudi-
  cating about 12 cases (45 applicants) daily. We observed interviews,
  ranging from 15 minutes to over one hour, and noted consistency in the
  type of questions        officers asked.
                                  INS


. According to State officials, Soviet citizens approved for refugee status
  were told to expect a &month wait before they could travel to the
  United States due to post-interview processing requirements. Conse-
  quently, Soviets approved after March will be admitted to the United
  States under the fiscal year 1991 refugee admissions ceiling. The 6-
  month wait is attributable primarily to the time needed to obtain volun-
  tary agency sponsorship assurances and complete post-interview
  processing at wpc.
. Between October 1,1989 and February 28, 1990,           officers in Moscow
                                                                         INS


  had interviewed 16,069 applicants, most of whom had applied during
  fiscal year 1989. A wpc official estimated that all fiscal year 1989 cases
  in the priority 1 through 5 groups will be interviewed by the end of July
  1990 and the remaining 1989 cases by December 1990. State officials
  said that      will continue interviewing refugee applicants in Moscow
                   INS


  even after the fiscal year 1990 refugee admissions ceiling has been met.
  The officials said a backlog of approved refugees pending departure will
  develop during fiscal year 1990.

    State Department officials believe that processing in Moscow has per-
    mitted the United States to better manage the flow of Soviet refugees
    into the United States. They said that processing in Moscow enables the
    United States to establish Soviet admission ceilings based on US. foreign
    policy and budgetary considerations, rather than on the number of peo-
    ple the Soviet Union allows to emigrate. Furthermore, they said that the
    new scheduling procedures permit the United States to give interviewing
    priority to Soviet citizens with close family or other ties to the United
    States. In the past, Soviets were interviewed in chronological order
    based on their application date, rather than by refugee processing prior-
    ity codes

    State and INS officials said that the new processing procedures provide
    the opportunity to significantly increase the number of Soviets that can


    Page 17                                           GAO/NSIAlHO-158          Processing   Soviet Refugees
                      Appendix I
                      Implementing   the Lautenberg   Amendment




                      be processed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The extent to which the
                      Embassy will be able to increase its processing goals, we believe,
                      depends on whether the State Department and INS are able to resolve
                      several problems we observed.


                      State Department and INS officials agree that the Moscow Embassy refu-
Staffing Problems     gee processing unit has been chronically understaffed. The staffing plan
                      calls for 22 staff (9 INS officers, including a 3-person management team
                      and 6 interviewing officers, and 13 support staff). The Embassy
                      reported that nearly all non-INS refugee processing staff will depart by
                      August 1990 and that there were no scheduled replacements for the INS
                      staff that would be departing soon. As of mid-March 1990, only 4 INS
                      interviewing officers were in Moscow and both INS and embassy officials
                      were concerned about whether current refugee processing levels could
                      be sustained. Shortages of support staff have caused delays in preparing
                      refugee travel packets, responding to applicant’s inquiries, and process-
                      ing parolees for travel. On March 23, 1990, the Embassy requested that
                      the WPC reduce the interview schedule in July from 72 cases to 50 cases
                      daily, because of the staffing shortage.

                      State and INS officials attribute Moscow staffing problems to several fac-
                      tors: (1) most INS refugee processing positions are temporary duty
                      assignments requiring unaccompanied tours and hotel living; (2) Soviet
                      entry visa procedures are cumbersome and prevent timely staff rota-
                      tion; and (3) staff fluent in Russian are hard to find.

                      The Departments of State and Justice are considering an increase in the
                      Embassy’s permanent staff ceiling level to accommodate refugee
                      processing staff; INS is recruiting Russian language staff to train as adju-
                      dicating officers; and State has contracted with a private U.S. firm to
                      provide 16 support staff. State officials said that the staffing problem
                      should be resolved by September 1990.


                      Facilities used for refugee processing, including interviewing, at the
Marginal Facilities   Embassy in Moscow are marginal. According to INS officials and our
                      observations, two of the six interview rooms are unsatisfactory because
                      they do not provide refugee applicants sufficient privacy during their
                      INS interview. An Embassy official agreed that INS offices are unsatisfac-
                      tory, but stated that so were most Embassy offices. They said that about
                      a $Cmillion renovation of existing Embassy facilities was underway.



                      Page 18                                     GAO/NSlAD9@15!3   Procedug   Soviet Refugees
                        Appendix I
                        Implementing   the Lautenberg   Amendment




                        The renovated space will provide 10 INS interview rooms, 3 management
                        offices, and space for administrative support staff and waiting rooms.


                        U.S. processing in Moscow is predicated on the assumption that Soviet
Soviet Emigration Law   citizens approved as refugees will be able to emigrate to the United
Still a Problem         States. According to Embassy and State Department officials, Soviet
                        authorities have allowed their citizens to emigrate only at the invitation
                        of close relatives abroad, or, in the case of Jews, to Israel. As of mid-
                        January 1990, INS had approved about 2,100 Soviets (in the P-6 refugee
                        processing priority) for refugee status who did not have close relatives
                        or other ties to the United States. An Embassy official said that these
                        refugees technically did not qualify for exit permission under existing
                        Soviet emigration law. Although it is not known how many of these had
                        applied for Soviet exit permission, an Embassy official said some denials
                        had been reported. A State Department official said that a liberalized
                        Soviet emigration law is expected to be enacted this year. However, the
                        State official said that if the law is not enacted and obtaining exit per-
                        mission proves to be a problem, refugee processing would be reassessed.


                        INS  expects to completely phase out the Vienna/Rome processing route
Phasing Out Rome        by June 1990, when all the refugees in Rome depart for the United
Refugee Processing      States. The number of Soviets entering Vienna for INS processing has
                        declined from about 5,500 in December, 1989, to fewer than 40 in Febru-
                        ary, 1990. According to an INS official, INS is using both the U.S. Attor-
                        ney General’s guidance issued September 14, 1989, and the Lautenberg
                        Amendment guidance to adjudicate refugee claims. Over 99 percent of
                        the applicants interviewed in Rome during fiscal year 1990, as of Febru-
                        ary 28, 1990, had been approved for refugee status. INS processing sta-
                        tistics indicate that about 45,000 Soviet refugees will be processed in
                        Rome during fiscal year 1990.

                        As of mid-March 1990, INS’ fiscal year 1990 processing statistics for
                        Soviet refugee applicants indicated that nearly 31,000 refugees and 40
                        parolees had departed for the United States, and that about 14,000 were
                        approved for refugee status and were pending departure. At that time
                        only 86 applicants were pending INS interviews, and an additional 120
                        Soviets were in Rome but had not yet submitted their refugee applica-
                        tions to INS.

                        Delays in receiving voluntary agency sponsorship assurances or medical
                        reports have resulted in large numbers of approved Soviet refugees


                        Page 19                                     GAO/NSLAD-99-158   Processiug   Soviet Refugeea
                        Appendix I
                        Implementing   the Lautenberg   Amendment




                        remaining several months in Rome. For example, in mid-March 1990,
                        about 59 percent of the estimated 14,000 refugees pending departure
                        were awaiting such documentation. A State official said that due to the
                        tremendous surge in Soviet refugees since 1988, voluntary agencies’
                        ability to supply timely sponsorship assurances has been strained. A
                        State official said that since the number of Soviet refugees is decreasing
                        due to the declining Rome refugee applicant population, the timeliness
                        of sponsorship assurances there should improve. However, according to
                        State and INS officials, this problem, in general, may continue in Moscow
                        into the next few years if Soviet refugee admission ceilings remain at
                        their current or higher levels.


                        Although a precise comparison of refugee processing costs between Mos-
Cost Comparison of      cow and Rome is difficult to make, our analysis of the refugee process-
Refugee Processing in   ing budgets for overseas expenditures for fiscal years 1989, 1990, and
Moscow and Rome         1991, indicates that the program budget for Moscow processing in fiscal
                        year 1991 could be less than one-half that of Rome for fiscal years 1989
                        and 1990. In fiscal year 1991, the first year of completely centralized
                        Moscow processing, we estimate that the United States will spend about
                        $1,000 per refugee admitted from Moscow for transportation to the
                        point of resettlement in the United States, INS administrative expenses in
                        Moscow and WPC costs. In contrast, our analysis shows that the United
                        States may spend as much as $2,600 per refugee processed in Rome this
                        fiscal year for care and maintenance, voluntary agency services, trans-
                        portation to the point of resettlement in the United States, and INS
                        administrative expenses in Rome. (See app. IV.)

                        Processing refugees in Rome is significantly more expensive, because,
                        unlike in Moscow, the United States provides refugee applicants subsis-
                        tence and administrative assistance while being processed. The United
                        States has traditionally provided for the care and maintenance (housing
                        and meals) of Soviet refugee applicants from their arrival in Vienna to
                        their departure to the IJnited States, or until INS denies their refugee
                        claim. Additionally, the United States provides funding to voluntary
                        agencies to assist Soviet refugee applicants through IN’Sprocessing. Such
                        assistance includes transportation from Vienna to Rome, medical exami-
                        nations and help in preparing INS documentation. Care and maintenance
                        expenses and voluntary agency services account for about 77 percent of
                        the cost of processing refugees in Rome in fiscal year 1990.




                        Page 20                                     GAO/NSlABW158   Processing   !3oviet Refugees
Appendix II

(YdmXzed soviet Refugee
RoeessingPrcmdures

                            The following procedures apply only to Soviets registering for refugee
                            consideration after October 1, 1989.


Registering for             questionnaires to the WPCand are then considered refugee registrants.
Refugee Consideration       They obtain preliminary questionnaires from the U.S. Embassy in Mos-
                            cow, American Consulate in Leningrad, the WPC, relatives or voluntary
                            organizations in the United States or any other source (e.g., a duplicated
                            copy of the form produced in the Soviet Union). Completed question-
                            naires are mailed to the WPC via international mail, through contacts in
                            the United States, or through the US. Embassy or Consulate in the
                            Soviet Union.


Preliminary             .   WPCprocesses preliminary questionnaires according to date received.
                            WPCenters biographical data from each questionnaire into the Auto-
Processing                  mated Refugee Tracking System (ARTS), assigns a case number, tenta-
                            tively designates a refugee processing priority code, and determines
                            whether an Affidavit of Relationship is required. Soviets citing relatives
                            in the United States must have the relatives submit the affidavits,
                            which are verified by INS before registrants’ refugee processing tentative
                            priority codes are finalized. For incomplete questionnaires, WPCnotifies
                            the Soviet citizen that additional information is needed before process-                E
                            ing can continue.
                        l   Soviets with completed preliminary questionnaires and verified Affida-
                            vits of Relationships are eligible for INS interview consideration. ARTS
                            generates eligible registrants for INS interview according to the following
                            objectives:

                            (1) 50 percent of the interviews scheduled for a given month are for
                            Soviets who applied for refugee status in fiscal year 1989, the remaining
                            50 percent are for fiscal year 1990 registrants.

                            (2) 80 percent of all interviews scheduled for a given month are for refu-
                            gee applicants with ties to the United States, such as those with P-l
                            through P-5 processing priority codes.

                            (3) 20 percent of all interviews scheduled for a given month are for refu-
                            gee applicants who are of national interest, such as those with P-6
                            processing priority code. These refugees have been defined to include
                            Evangelicals, those claiming membership in the Ukrainian Catholic or
                            Orthodox Church, and Jews with distant relatives in the United States.


                            Page 2 1                              GAO/NSIAD-90-168   Processing   Soviet Refugees
                                Appendix II
                                Centr~        Soviet Refugee
                                ProcessingProcedures




                                Also, hardship cases are included in this group (including cases where
                                the applicant missed the October 1, 1989, cutoff date for Rome process-
                                ing and has suffered hardship, cases where the family unit was split,
                                refugees of special concern whose admission is in the public interest,
                                and all other refugees.)

                            l   WPC notifies the applicants of their interview dates via international
                              mail and, if possible, also through relatives in the United States. (The
                              refugee registrants become refugee applicants once their interviews are
                              scheduled.) The INS refugee application forms, which the applicants
                              must submit to INS on their interview date, are included in the interview
                              notification package. The applicants are also encouraged to bring an
                              Affidavit of Support to the INS interview in order to initiate expedited
                              parole processing, if necessary.
                            . wpc provides the monthly interview schedule and brief bio-data on each
                              case to the Embassy in Moscow,


                            9 Refugee applicants arrive at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow with com-
US. Embassy and INS           pleted refugee documents. Embassy support staff review the documents
Processing Procedures         for completeness and INS officers interview the applicants. At the end of
                              the day, applicants are told whether they qualify for refugee or parole
                              status and what additional information will be needed before they can
                              depart for the United States.
                            l Denied applicants’ files are retained at the Embassy for two weeks to
                              allow for Requests for Reconsideration. (Denied applicants are informed
                              at the time of interview that the files will remain in Moscow for only 2
                              weeks. After this period, any motions to reconsider are sent to the WPC
                              for review and adjudication, or if necessary, to schedule another inter-
                              view in Moscow.)
                        l     INS officials at the Embassy send the results of the interview and inter-
                              view packages to WPC to initiate post interview processing.


                                WPCinitiates security name checks on each applicant and sends bio-
WPC Post-Interview      l


                                graphical information to the Refugee Data Center in New York to initi-
Processing                      ate voluntary agency sponsorship assurances.
                        l       WPC prepares travel packets’ for refugees and parolees and sends them
                                to the Embassy in Moscow. Refugees purchase their own tickets to the


                                ‘The travel packet includes: INS admission forms, medical forms for Public Health, Customs Declara-
                                tion, assurance documentation, and employment-related forms for the U.S. Department of Labor.



                                Page 22                                           GAO/NStAD-90458      Processing   Soviet Refugees
                                                I




--
         Appendix II
         centra)ized Scwiet Refugee
         Processing Procedures




         United States and must show them when they pick up the travel pack-
         ets. The Embassy in Moscow notifies wpc of refugee travel
         arrangements.
     l   The travel packet and forms prepared at the United States’ port of entry         !
         are returned to the WPC for holding until the refugees apply to adjust           g
         their refugee status or other INSservice is warranted. At that time, INS
         sends the files to the local Refugee Data Center for permanent holding.




         Page 23                            GAO/NSIAlHO-168   Prwedng   Soviet Refugees   1
m)endix   III

RefugeeProcessingpriorities Effective
October 1,1986

                         Compelling Concern/Interest: Exceptional cases of refugees (a) in imme-
Priority One             diate danger of loss of life and for whom there appears to be no alterna-
(Worldwide)              tive to resettlement in the United States or (b) of compelling concern to
                         the United States, such as former or present prisoners and dissidents.


                         Former U.S. Government Employees: Refugees employed by the U.S
Priority Two             government for at least one year prior to the claim for refugee status, as
(Worldwide)              well as individuals who were not official U.S. government employees but
                         who for at least one year were so integrated into the U.S. government
                         offices as to have had the effect and appearance of U.S. government
                         employees.


                         Family Reunification: Refugees who are spouses, unmarried sons,
Priority Three           unmarried daughters, or parents of persons in the United States. (The
(Worldwide)              status of the anchor relative in the United States must be one of the
                         following: U.S. Citizen, lawful permanent resident alien, refugee,
                         [parolee] or asylee.)


                         Other Ties to the United States: Refugees employed by U.S. foundations,
Priority Four (Africa,   voluntary agencies, or business firms for at least one year prior to the
Eastern European/        claim for refugee status and refugees trained in the United States or
Soviet Union, and        abroad under U.S. auspices.
Latin American
Refugees)

                         Additional Family Reunification: Refugees who are married sons or
Priority Five            daughters, unmarried siblings, married siblings, grandparents, or
(Worldwide)              grandchildren of persons in the United States; or more distantly related
                         individuals who are part of the family group and dependent on the fam-
                         ily for support.


                         Otherwise of National Interest: Other refugees in specified regional
Priority Six             groups whose admission is in the national interest.
(Worldwide)


                         Page 24                              GAO/NSIADPO-15%   Processing   Soviet Refugees
Appendix IV -

Estimated Per Capita Costsfor Soviet
RefugeeProcessing

Table IV.1 : Vienna/Rome: Fiscal Year
1990 Estimated Per Capita                                                                                          Refugees       processed       by:
                                                                                                                                                 Other
                                                                                                                         HIAS”               agencies
                                        State Department
                                        Care and maintenGceb                                                               $825                 $1,600
                                        Administrative      and Pro&ina                                                        615                 327
                                        Tranwortation        Loanc                                                             659                 659
                                        Subtotal                                                                         $2,099                $2,586


                                        Rome administrative                                                                    $60                 $60
                                        Total                                                                            $2,159                $2,646
                                        aThe Hebrew Immigrant Ard Society

                                        bCare and maintenance and admlnistratlve expenses differ because HIAS has agreed to provjde some
                                        prrvate support for these expenses, whereas the US government fully reimburses such expenses of
                                        the other voluntary agencies.
                                        ‘The total per capita for transportation loans includes $435 for travel to the United States and $224 for
                                        domestic travel and assocjated costs to point of resettlement
                                        Note. The U.S. Soviet refugee admissions ceiling for fiscal year 1990 IS 50,000. State Department offi- ’
                                        crals estrmate that the United States will admit about 43,000 Soviet refugees from Rome and about
                                        5,000 from Moscow. Same 35,000 from Rome will be fully-funded, as will be the 5,000 from Moscow.
                                        Approxrmately 8,000 from Rome WIII be “privately-funded”     admissions for which the United States pays
                                        only care and maintenance The remaining admissions, about 2,000, are unfunded as of March 15, 1990.


Table IV.2: Moscow: Fiscal Year 1991
Projected Per Capita
                                        State Department
                                        Transportation       Loana                                                                                $913
                                        Washington       Processing   Center                                                                        36
                                        Subtotal                                                                                                 $949
                                        INS                                                                   _-   “-.    --           ---
                                        Moscow       administrative                                                                               $113
                                        iashinoton       Processina   Center                                                                        -55
                                        Subtotal                                                                                                 $138
                                        Total                                                                                                  $1,087
                                        aThe total per caprta for transportation loans includes $620 for travel to the United States and $293 for
                                        domestic travel and associated costs to point of resettlement. Prior to fiscal year 1991, the United
                                        States had not provided international transport loans IO Sovret refugees leaving from Moscow; however,
                                        State Department plans to begrn offering such loans in fiscal year 1991.
                                        Note. Fiscal year 1991 estrmates are based on 40,000 fully-funded Sovret admissIons to the Unrted
                                        States




                                        Page 26                                              GAO/NSW90-168          Processing       Soviet Refugees
 Appendix V

 Major Contributors to This Report


                         David R. Martin, Assistant Director
 National Security and   Susan Gibbs-Joseph, Evaluator-in-Charge
 International Affairs   MaeWanda Michael-Jackson, Senior Evaluator
 Division Washington,    Tana M. Davis, Evaluator

 DC.




(472203)                 Page 26                          GAO/NSIADW-158   F’rocessing Soviet &pusee~
P   I   I
_