Visa Issuance: Issues Concerning the Religious Worker Visa Program

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-03-26.

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

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to the Congressional Requesters

March 1999
                  VISA ISSUANCE

                  Issues Concerning the
                  Religious Worker Visa

      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548                                                                                    Leter

      National Security and
      International Affairs Division                                                                            Leter


      March 26, 1999

      The Honorable Lamar Smith
      The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee
      Ranking Minority Member
      Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
      Committee on the Judiciary
      House of Representatives

      The Honorable Melvin Watt
      House of Representatives

      The Honorable Spencer Abraham
      The Honorable Edward M. Kennedy
      Ranking Minority Member
      Subcommittee on Immigration
      Committee on the Judiciary
      United States Senate

      In response to concerns from the U.S. religious community about shortages
      of domestic religious workers to fill vacancies for religious positions,1 the
      Congress established special immigrant and nonimmigrant visa2 categories
      in 1990, for religious workers, religious professionals, and ministers.
      Religious worker visas constituted about 11,000, of the 7 million immigrant
      and nonimmigrant visas issued in fiscal year 1997. The Department of State
      and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) share responsibility
      for issuing visas and admitting aliens into the United States. As a result of
      some recent fraud investigations, both agencies have expressed concern
      that some individuals and organizations that sponsor religious workers
      may be exploiting this category to enable unqualified aliens to enter or stay
      in the United States illegally.

      1The legislation uses the term "religious worker" to apply to (1) ministers, (2) those who work in a
      professional capacity in a religious vocation or occupation, and (3) religious workers and those in a
      religious vocation. This report focuses on the third category and, as used, includes those in vocations
      such as nuns and monks and those engaged in work related to a traditional religious function, including
      liturgical workers, religious instructors, counselors, cantors, workers in religious hospitals, and

        Immigrant visas are for permanent stays in the United States, and nonimmigrant visas are for
      temporary stays.

      Page 1                                                             GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

                   At your request, we determined (1) the extent and nature of any fraud3 INS
                   and State have identified in the religious worker visa program4 and (2) any
                   steps INS and State have taken or plan to take to change the visa screening
                   process. To meet our objectives, we interviewed INS and State
                   headquarters officials, and we visited INS facilities in California, New York,
                   Texas, and Vermont5 responsible for processing visas and investigating
                   fraud. We also met with representatives of 12 religious organizations
                   involved in the program.

Results in Brief   Although the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the State
                   Department have identified some program fraud through the visa screening
                   process and investigations, they do not have data or analysis to firmly
                   establish the extent of fraud in the religious worker visa program. The
                   nature of the fraud uncovered typically involved (1) applicants making
                   false statements about their qualifications as religious workers or their
                   exact plans in the United States or (2) conspiracy between an applicant and
                   a sponsoring organization to misrepresent material facts about the
                   applicant's qualifications or the nature of the position to be filled. INS and
                   State sometimes detect fraud schemes when a sponsoring organization
                   petitions INS for hundreds of religious workers at a time.

                   In order to increase the availability of information necessary to allow
                   reviewers to determine the eligibility of visa applicants and sponsors, INS,
                   with State's support, is considering changes to the visa screening process.
                   These changes include (1) having an applicant submit additional evidence
                   of his or her qualifications, (2) having the sponsoring organization submit
                   additional evidence regarding its ability to financially support the
                   applicant, and (3) incorporating new software applications that alert
                   reviewers to organizations filing petitions for numerous workers. INS is
                   also proposing a regulatory change to expressly require that the prior work
                   experience specified for immigrant religious worker visa applicants be

                    Immigration fraud involves the willful intent to circumvent the immigration laws of the United States
                   by submitting false documents or misrepresenting material facts.

                   4By "program" we mean all of the requirements, processes, and procedures related to the issuance of
                   religious worker visas.

                     INS is organized into 3 regions, 33 district offices, 3 overseas offices, and a number of other offices. It
                   also has service centers in California, Nebraska, Texas, and Vermont that process petitions, including
                   those for religious workers. Each service center generally serves a specific geographic area and
                   processes petitions from applicants from states in its respective jurisdiction.

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             full-time and that the individuals work for the religious organization in the
             United States on a full-time basis. The religious organizations we met with
             believe the current program meets their needs. Of the seven organizations
             commenting on the proposed regulatory change, three opposed it because
             some part-time religious workers that are currently eligible may no longer

Background   The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 established special immigrant
             and nonimmigrant categories for religious workers, religious professionals,
             and ministers.6 The act authorizes special immigrants to be admitted to the
             United States as religious workers if, for 2 years prior to admission, they
             have been members of a religious denomination having a bona fide,
             nonprofit, religious organization in the United States; they intend to enter
             the United States to work for the organization7 at the organization's request
             in a religious vocation or occupation; and they have been carrying on the
             religious work continuously for at least 2 years immediately preceding their
             application for admission. The act established a limit of 5,0008 on the
             number of special immigrant religious workers and religious professionals
             that can be admitted in any one year. Although the special immigrant
             provisions for religious workers and religious professionals were to expire
             on October 1, 1994, they have been amended twice and extended to
             October 1, 2000.

             Applying for an immigrant religious worker visa is a two-step process.
             First, a petition must be filed with INS. A petition is the form the
             sponsoring individual or organization must file on behalf of an alien to
             demonstrate that the alien meets the requirements of a specific
             immigration category. The petition must include supporting
             documentation showing that the religious worker will be working for a
             religious organization and how the religious worker will be paid or
             remunerated. The documentation should also clearly indicate that the
             religious worker will not be solely dependent on supplemental employment

               Public Law 101-649, 104 Stat. 5004, 5027 (Nov. 29, 1990). The legislation also applies to spouses and
             children of religious workers.

             7The act also authorizes the religious workers to work for a bona fide organization that is affiliated with
             the religious denomination and is exempt from taxation as an organization described in
             section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

               The employment-based preference limitation, under which special immigrant religious workers are
             included, is 140,000.

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                        or solicitation of funds for support. INS reviewers examine the petitions
                        and supporting documentation to determine if the alien meets the program
                        requirements. If INS approves the petition, the alien files an application for
                        an adjustment of status with INS if he or she is already in the United States
                        or an application for a visa with a State overseas post if he or she is abroad.
                        If the alien does not meet the requirements, INS denies the petition. About
                        85 percent of those admitted for permanent residence as religious workers
                        in fiscal years 1996 and 1997 were already in the United States.

                        Nonimmigrant religious workers can be admitted under the same
                        conditions as special immigrant religious workers, except that there is no
                        requirement for prior religious work experience, and the maximum period
                        of stay for nonimmigrant religious workers is 5 years. The authorization
                        for admission of nonimmigrant religious workers did not contain sunset
                        restrictions nor any limit on the number that can be admitted. To obtain a
                        nonimmigrant visa, the alien files an application, but no petition is required.
                        Documentation required in support of the visa application must establish
                        the arrangements made, if any, for remuneration, including the amount and
                        source of any salary, a description of any other type of remuneration, and a
                        statement indicating whether the remuneration will be in exchange for
                        services rendered. The majority of nonimmigrant religious workers applies
                        and receives their visas abroad through State's overseas posts. (See app. I
                        for more information on immigrant and nonimmigrant religious worker
                        visa issuance.)

The Extent and Nature   Both INS and State have expressed concern about fraud in the religious
                        worker visa program, but they do not have data or analysis to firmly
of Fraud                establish the extent of the problem. Their knowledge of program fraud is
                        based on information developed primarily from fraud investigations and
                        through the visa screening process. INS has conducted several fraud
                        investigations since 1994 involving hundreds of applicants. In addition,
                        fraud has been identified through INS' and State's visa screening processes.
                        The agencies' reviewers generally deny petitions and visas to unqualified
                        applicants, but according to the agencies' officials, it is difficult to prove
                        willful intent to commit fraud. The types of fraud the agencies have
                        encountered often involved petitioners making false statements about the
                        length of time that the applicant was a member of the religious organization
                        and the nature of the qualifying work experience. Some of the
                        investigations involved religious organizations petitioning for more
                        workers than they can reasonably support. Evidence uncovered by INS

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                            suggests that some of these organizations exist solely as a means to carry
                            out immigration fraud.

Extent of Fraud Not Known   INS and State have uncovered incidents of fraud in the religious worker
                            visa program, but they do not routinely investigate questionable visa
                            petitions and applications or report fraud information by type of visa.
                            State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the office responsible for
                            investigating the use of counterfeit U.S. passports and visas, has not
                            conducted any investigations of religious worker visa fraud. State's
                            antifraud units at overseas posts sometimes review suspicious applications
                            to screen out ineligible applicants, but they do not routinely report the
                            results to State's headquarters. Individual cases of suspected fraud are
                            generally not investigated, unless the suspected fraud is part of a larger
                            scheme to systematically circumvent immigration laws. Moreover, INS
                            does not routinely follow up on recipients of employment-based visas,
                            including religious visas, to determine whether they comply with the law.

                            The agencies generally deny questionable visa petitions and applications
                            they receive. Most are not denied for fraud, but for other reasons, such as
                            failing to comply with statutory requirements and regulations, including
                            failure to provide requested documents. They give fraud as the reason for
                            the denial when they have sufficient evidence that the applicant or
                            petitioner willfully misrepresented a material fact. An INS workload report
                            on immigrant petitions received, approved, and denied, showed that of the
                            approximately 8,400 petitions for religious workers processed in fiscal year
                            1998, 3 percent were denied for suspected fraud. The reported 3-percent
                            fraud denial rate for religious worker petitions was the third highest fraud
                            denial rate among the 44 different immigrant petition categories listed. The
                            fraud denial rate for most of the other categories was less than 1 percent.
                            State Department statistics on visa denials do not identify denials by type
                            of visa. However, a 1998 State survey of 83 overseas posts identified
                            instances of fraud uncovered during visa processing.

Investigations Illustrate   At our request, the Fraud Branch at INS' Office of Investigations in
Schemes Used to             Washington, D.C., surveyed fraud units in INS' district and suboffices to
                            identify the number of active and closed fraud investigations involving
Circumvent Immigration
                            religious worker visas since 1994. The units identified 54 such
Laws                        investigations involving about 1,700 petitions9 during the 5-year period.
                            The 54 INS investigations, of which about 40 are closed, ranged from cases
                            involving individual fraud schemes to organized fraud rings.10 For

                            Page 5                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

example, the fraud unit in the Chicago District Office investigated 30 cases
involving individuals who failed to meet the 2-year experience requirement.
At least five investigations performed by INS since 1994 have involved
individuals or organizations filing petitions for hundreds of religious
workers. For example, in 1995, INS investigated a pastor who filed 450
immigrant religious worker petitions covering over 900 individuals,
falsifying the number of years the aliens had been a member of the church.
The pastor died of natural causes before an indictment could be returned,
and the petitions were denied or allowed to expire. INS recently completed
an investigation it started in 1994 involving suspects who provided false
supporting documents to INS to show that the aliens met the 2-year work
experience requirement. This investigation, which involved over 400
petitions, ultimately led to the arrests of six individuals, guilty pleas to
charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, and additional investigations
of several similar schemes. In another recent case, reviewers at INS'
Vermont Service Center became suspicious when one organization, which
had filed about 100 petitions for immigrant visas the previous 2 years
combined, filed over 200 petitions the third year. The reviewers doubted
that the organization could support so many full-time workers and referred
the case to an INS district office fraud unit where it is currently under

Some investigations were initiated because of suspicious activity identified
by State Department consular officials. For example, consular officers at
the U.S. embassy in Suva, Fiji, became suspicious of a church that filed
petitions on behalf of 30 individuals from Fiji who were in the United States
on expired visitors' visas. The information was forwarded to INS for
investigation. The investigation revealed that only 1 of the 30 petitions met
the requirements for a religious worker visa. The post suspected that this
scheme was related to a larger one involving petitions on behalf of Tonga
residents to stay in the United States illegally. Also, the U.S. embassy in
Bogota uncovered a fraud scheme in which the local church was providing
applicants with false documents to demonstrate that the applicants had
been members of the church for the required 2-year period. The embassy's
antifraud unit discovered that in some cases the applicants had recently
joined the church, and in other cases, they had no membership affiliation at

9To arrive at these figures, we counted the number of investigations reported by each unit responding to
the INS survey and the number of petitions involved when they were identified.

     In contrast, INS opened over 6,000 immigration fraud investigations in fiscal year 1997.

Page 6                                                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

Changes to the Visa   INS and State reviewers stated that they are not confident that the
                      agencies' screening process is identifying all unqualified applicants and
Screening Process     sponsoring organizations. They attributed the problem to the lack of
                      sufficient information to determine the eligibility of visa applicants and
                      their sponsors. INS, with State's support, is considering a number of steps
                      to address this problem.

Lack of Sufficient    INS requires the petitioner to provide evidence that (1) the organization
Information           qualifies as a nonprofit organization, (2) the alien meets the qualifications
                      for an immigrant religious worker visa, and (3) the alien will be paid or
                      otherwise remunerated by the religious organization.

                      INS and State reviewers have asserted that sometimes the required
                      supporting evidence, although minimally acceptable, consists of little more
                      than a letter from the sponsoring organization and does not adequately
                      establish an applicant's eligibility as a religious worker or the sponsoring
                      organization's ability to pay the worker. The reviewer can deny the
                      application or petition pending the receipt of additional information, but
                      such actions take more time. The INS reviewers stated that more specific
                      information about the applicant's training and qualifications and the exact
                      nature of the position to be filled, including the number of petitions
                      previously filed, should be provided up front, similar to other
                      employment-based visa categories. In addition, unlike most other
                      employment-based visas, the applicant can file a petition on his or her own
                      behalf and, although supporting documentation from the sponsoring
                      organization is still required, all of it can be submitted by the applicant. For
                      most other employment-based visa categories, the petition and supporting
                      documentation must be submitted by the potential employer. The
                      reviewers believe INS should require information from independently
                      verifiable sources. The reviewers also stated that the documents should be
                      current. They said that sometimes the sponsoring organizations submit
                      copies of their original tax-exemption form, which may no longer be valid.

                      A related issue raised by State's overseas posts concerns the definition of a
                      "religious worker." They believe that the definition of religious worker is
                      too broad, making the religious worker visa program an attractive vehicle
                      for fraud and abuse. According to the survey, posts sometimes struggled
                      with what they considered to be the "marginal" nature of some of the
                      religious positions used by the applicants. A common sentiment was that
                      almost anyone involved with a church, aside from those occupations that

                      Page 7                                              GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

                              were not intended to be covered by the 1990 religious worker visa
                              legislation, for example, maintenance and cleaning staff, could qualify as a
                              religious worker.

INS Is Considering Steps to   INS is developing a number of initiatives to improve its visa screening
Address the Problems          process and to detect and deter fraud. Most of these initiatives are focused
                              on requiring petitions to include more comprehensive information to allow
                              reviewers to make better informed decisions. Some of the service centers
                              are using the capabilities of commercial software to enhance their ability to
                              identify patterns and trends that may indicate fraud. State officials said
                              they would support INS' efforts to increase evidentiary standards. Further,
                              State is consulting with the Internal Revenue Service and the Department
                              of Labor to develop more comprehensive information on religious
                              occupations and organizations to help the overseas posts better understand
                              the definition of "religious worker" and "traditional" religious functions.

Full-time Work Requirement    INS is in the process of implementing a proposed regulatory change to
                              expressly require that the prior work experience specified for immigrant
                              religious worker visa applicants be full-time work. 11 The proposed rule
                              also states that the documentation supporting an applicant's petition must
                              indicate that the religious worker will be working for the religious
                              organization in the United States on a full-time basis. INS officials stated
                              that INS is changing the regulation to address the problem of individuals
                              doing part-time voluntary work for a religious organization while working
                              full-time in a secular occupation. They said an applicant's ability to
                              demonstrate 2 years of prior full-time, paid religious work experience is a
                              good indication that the individual is a committed religious worker. They
                              also believe such experience is a good indicator that the individual will be
                              doing full-time religious work for which the organization will pay a salary.
                              The proposed changes were initially published for comment in June 1995.
                              According to INS, it plans to finalize the regulatory change in October 1999.

Additional Documentary        INS is also considering revising its requirements for the documents that
Requirements                  must be initially submitted by the petitioner for an immigrant visa. Such
                              documents could include pay stubs to show that the worker was
                              compensated for full-time work and bank statements to demonstrate that

                                As previously mentioned, current law requires applicants to have been performing religious work
                              continuously for at least 2 years before filing their petitions and that they are to work for the requesting
                              organization once they enter the United States.

                              Page 8                                                                GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

                              the organizations have sufficient financial resources to support their
                              worker or workers. INS has the authority to ask for additional evidence to
                              verify information in the petitions, and some INS reviewers will defer
                              making a final decision until the organization furnishes this type of
                              supplemental information. The suggested change involving additional
                              documentation would increase the amount of information that all
                              organizations must initially submit and that all adjudicators would use to
                              review petitions. By initially requiring more specific documents and by
                              clarifying the full-time religious work requirements, INS may also reduce
                              the number of filings by unqualified applicants.

                              INS has no timetable for implementing the changes to the requirements for
                              supporting documents. However, INS officials stated that they might revise
                              the documentary requirements after the agency redrafts or finalizes its
                              proposed rule change on the full-time work experience requirement.
                              According to a State official, State would participate in any changes to the
                              requirements for immigrant visas and publish visa regulations jointly with
                              INS. He said that, if appropriate, State would revise its documentary
                              requirements for nonimmigrant visas to correspond with INS' suggested
                              revisions for immigrant visas.

Improved Access to INS Data   Until recently, reviewers could not quickly and efficiently determine how
Can Help Verify Eligibility   many filings had been made by a petitioning organization. As previously
                              discussed, organizations petitioning for numbers of workers that appear to
                              be inconsistent with the organization's membership size and financial
                              resources to support the workers sometimes indicates fraud. However,
                              until a pattern had been identified, the reviewers could not know if the
                              petitions were potentially fraudulent. For example, one organization
                              currently under investigation had 37 petitions approved in fiscal year 1996
                              and 76 petitions approved in fiscal year 1997 before the pattern was
                              detected. While all service centers now have the capability to identify
                              multiple filers, the California and Vermont Service Centers have developed
                              their own systems using commercial off-the-shelf software (Microsoft SQL
                              for California and Oracle and Access for Vermont), which they believe
                              provides more efficient inquiry and reporting capability than the system
                              provided by INS headquarters. In addition, the two service centers are in
                              the process of consolidating their databases so that they can share data.

Views of Religious            We visited 12 religious organizations in California, New York, Maryland,
Organizations                 and the District of Columbia to discuss their experience with the religious
                              worker visa program. The religious organizations generally believed that

                              Page 9                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

the program met their needs. For example, several of the organizations use
the program to meet the needs of growing ethnic congregations. One
church with 7,000 members uses the program to provide workers to
minister to its separate Filipino, Korean, Hispanic, and French- and
English-speaking African congregations. A religious organization with a
worldwide membership uses the program to recruit native speakers
familiar with the religion to serve as religious translators and broadcasters.
Another religious organization with 3 million members in more than 120
countries uses nonimmigrant religious workers to participate in
church-sponsored community service programs.

We asked representatives of the organizations for their opinions of INS'
proposed changes to the program. Of the seven commenting on the
full-time work experience requirement, four stated that the proposal would
not negatively affect their organization, because the majority of the
applicants they sponsor for immigrant religious worker visas have already
been serving in full-time capacities. However, three expressed
reservations. For example, the representative of one religious
organization stated that the requirement might adversely affect applicants
who work for congregations in which ministerial duties are shared. The
representative of another organization stated that the full-time work
experience requirement could be problematic for those engaged in
religious vocations if proof of paid full-time work was required, because
some individuals are often not paid a salary. He said the requirement could
also cause problems for some individuals who perform their religious
duties part-time while studying for the priesthood or ministry.

Three of the four religious organizations commenting on the proposed
change in documentary evidence requirements stated that the change
would not pose a problem. However, the one opposed to the proposed
change pointed out that INS already has the discretion to ask for additional
documents when required and does not believe that religious employers
and applicants should routinely be required to assume additional
documentary burdens. Some representatives also stated that INS should
avoid the appearance of deciding for a religious organization what
constitutes religious work.

In addition to asking for their opinions on the potential modifications
proposed by INS, we also asked the religious organizations for their
suggestions for improving the program. Three of the organizations
suggested making the special immigrant religious worker visa category
permanent. The representative of one of the religious organizations said

Page 10                                            GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

                  this would eliminate the glut of petitions that are filed before the "sunset"
                  date. One organization that was familiar with student visas suggested that
                  a sponsoring organization could submit to INS an annual status report on
                  each of its nonimmigrant religious workers, much like academic
                  institutions that must annually certify the status of foreign students.
                  Another organization suggested that INS provide some materials
                  concerning the religious worker visa program in some foreign languages to
                  help ensure that organizations fully understand the regulations and
                  requirements of the program.

Conclusion        Both INS and State are attempting to balance the need to screen out
                  unqualified applicants with the religious worker visa program's original
                  purpose of facilitating the entry of qualified religious workers. The
                  program modifications that INS is undertaking or plans to undertake to
                  verify the accuracy of petitions for immigrant religious worker visas are
                  reasonable steps to improve program integrity. If implemented, the
                  modifications should help to better screen visa applicants and religious

Agency Comments   In oral comments on a draft of this report, INS and State concurred with
                  the report's findings and conclusions. INS noted that its planned regulatory
                  change and other steps underway to improve its screening process should
                  help reduce the incidence of fraud. INS and State also provided technical
                  comments, which we have incorporated as appropriate.

Scope and         To determine whether INS and State have data on any fraud in the religious
                  worker visa program and to determine the nature of any abuse, we met
Methodology       with INS and State headquarters officials and visited three of the four INS
                  service centers responsible for processing and approving religious worker
                  visas. We also analyzed information from about 700 religious worker visa
                  petitions denied by the California Service Center between January 1, 1996,
                  and August 18, 1997, and data from about 83 responses to a State
                  Department survey of 100 of its overseas posts in February 1998. We met
                  with officials at INS' New York District Office responsible for interviewing
                  visa applicants, and other officials to discuss INS' efforts to identify
                  patterns and trends in the use of the program that could indicate fraud. We
                  also met with officials of State's Fraud Prevention Program and Office of
                  Diplomatic Security to discuss State's efforts to identify and investigate

                  Page 11                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

religious worker visa fraud. In addition, we met with fraud investigators
from INS' Los Angeles District Office to discuss specific fraud
investigations and INS' processes for accepting, investigating, and
resolving fraud cases.

We interviewed INS and State officials to discuss their agencies' processes
and procedures for determining if visa applicants and sponsoring
organizations met program requirements. We reviewed the relevant law
and related legislative history, the INS regulations, State's Foreign Affairs
Manual, advisory cables to the overseas posts, and other guidance to
determine what criteria the agencies use to judge petitions and
applications. We observed the process for reviewing and approving visa
petitions at three INS service centers in California, Texas, and Vermont and
discussed with service center staff how petitions are evaluated and the
limitations of the process. We also queried by telephone consular posts in
India, Korea, Mexico, and the Philippines about their processes and
procedures for reviewing and approving visa applications. We chose those
posts because they process relatively large numbers of applications for
nonimmigrant religious worker visas.

To identify any steps INS and State had taken or planned to take to address
identified problems, we met with INS and State officials. We discussed the
potential effect of any proposed changes with representatives of the U.S.
Catholic Conference, the General Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventist
Church, the Christian Science Church, Agudath Israel of America, and the
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. We selected these
organizations because they have testified in support of the special visa for
religious workers or are otherwise considered knowledgeable about the
program. We also discussed the proposed changes with churches and
other religious institutions that use the program. We selected these
organizations by extracting information from the California and Vermont
Service Centers' databases of religious worker visa petitions approved in
fiscal year 1997 to identify the churches using the program. We selected an
illustrative sample of large, medium, and small users based on the number
of each organization's approved petitions. We interviewed representatives
of seven churches from this group.

Page 12                                           GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

We conducted our review from February 1998 to November 1998 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

We are sending copies of this report to interested congressional
committees. We are also sending copies to the Honorable Madeleine
Albright, Secretary of State, and the Honorable Doris Meissner,
Commissioner, INS. We will also make copies available to others upon

Please contact me at (202) 512-4128 if you or any of your staff have any
questions concerning this report. The major contributors to this report are
listed in appendix II.

Benjamin F. Nelson, Director
International Relations and Trade Issues

Page 13                                          GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance

Letter                                                                                           1

Appendix I                                                                                      16
Religious Worker
Issued and Recipients'
Countries of Origin

Appendix II                                                                                     18
Major Contributors to
This Report

Figures                  Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Religious Worker Visas Issued
                           Since Fiscal Year 1992                                               16
                         Major Countries of Origin for Immigrant and Nonimmigrant
                           Religious Worker Visa Recipients in Fiscal Year 1998                 17


                         INS          Immigration and Naturalization Service

                         Page 14                                      GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance
Page 15   GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance
Appendix I

Religious Worker Visas—Numbers Issued and
Recipients' Countries of Origin                                                                                                            AppIexndi

                                               This appendix shows the number of religious worker visas issued from
                                               fiscal years 1992 to 1998 and the major countries of origin of visa recipients
                                               in fiscal year 1998. Figure I.1 shows that the number of immigrant religious
                                               worker visas issued since fiscal year 1992 has fluctuated, reaching the
                                               annual limit of 5,000 in fiscal years 1994 and 1997, when the program was
                                               scheduled to expire. Meanwhile, issuances of nonimmigrant visas have
                                               steadily increased since fiscal year 1992. Figure I.2 shows that South Korea
                                               and India were the top countries of origin of immigrant and nonimmigrant
                                               religious worker visas, respectively.

Figure I.1: Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Religious Worker Visas Issued Since Fiscal Year 1992



 6,000                                                                                 5,511
                                              5,000                    4,907                   5,000


              1992          1993               1994              1995           1996            1997             1998
                                                              Fiscal year

                                           Immigrant visas         Nonimmigrant visas

                                               Source: State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs.

                                               Page 16                                                         GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance
                                          Appendix I
                                          Religious Worker Visas—Numbers Issued and
                                          Recipients' Countries of Origin

Figure I.2: Major Countries of Origin for Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Religious Worker Visa Recipients in Fiscal Year 1998


                                         Great Britain
                                        Northern Ireland

                                                                                                               South Korea
                                                                                      267                  Philippines

           Immigrant visas
           Nonimmigrant visas

                                          Source: State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs.

                                          Page 17                                                GAO/NSIAD-99-67 Visa Issuance
Appendix II

Major Contributors to This Report                                         ApIpexndi

National Security and   Diana M. Glod
                        Andrew D. Crawford
International Affairs   La Verne G. Tharpes
Division, Washington,

Office of the General   Richard Seldin

Counsel, Washington,

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