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June 29, 2000

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I am a consular officer and a member of the Foreign Service. Since 1985, I have done consular work in China, Japan and most recently Poland. From August 1997 to December 1999 I served as deputy to the Consul General in Warsaw, Poland, and was directly responsible for running the Immigrant Visa Section. Among my duties were training the staff to adjudicate immigrant visas, including religious worker visas, and reviewing all immigrant visa applications that were denied or were not readily approvable. Although I did not have direct responsibility for nonimmigrant visa operations, I am acquainted with the problems of adjudicating religious worker visas. Warsaw is one of the busiest visa-issuing posts in Europe, but the total number of immigrant and nonimmigrant religious worker visas is only a tiny percentage -- far less than one percent -- of the visa workload. This is true even though Poland seems to be a major source of religious workers. Most of the immigrant religious worker visas we issue are for the dependents of individuals who have adjusted status in the United States. As a practical matter, religious worker visa fraud constitutes a miniscule part of the anti-fraud caseload in Warsaw. Most Polish applicants we saw presented legitimate, credible cases.

 Nevertheless, the cases we did see sometimes involved applicants with weak or marginal qualifications as a religious worker. Warsaw responded in 1998 to a survey about religious worker visa fraud in connection with a GAO study. In Warsaw's response, we expressed concern and frustration about the ease with which applicants with marginal experience seem to qualify for such visas. From the perspective of the consular officer, we often saw cases where, although the applicant may have satisfied the statutory criteria, it was not clear that granting the visa served to provide a religious worker to fill a needed position in the United States. It was frustrating to deal with these cases.

Most of our problematic immigrant visa cases involved applications from lay people who made no claim to a religious vocation. The most common problems in these cases were questionable or false claims of experience as a religious worker. There is no requirement in the law that experience as a religious worker be gained in a full-time occupation for which the worker receives compensation. As a result, applicants for religious worker immigrant visas are sometimes employed abroad in full-time occupations that do not involve religious work, in addition to claiming habitual engagement in a religious occupation. For example, an applicant might be employed in a factory or engaged in farm work in Poland and may nonetheless claim to have worked for more than two years as a volunteer instructor in religious doctrine. Because of the volunteer nature of the work there are often no tax, insurance or other standard employment documents that might be used to verify the work experience of the applicant. The applicant might be going to the United States to provide instruction in religious doctrine in a setting that also seems to be less than full-time work. Such cases would seem to present a broad range of questions, but as a practical matter, the interviewing consular officer would generally focus on the question of qualifying experience. This is an area where the consular officer is most likely to deal with information that was not available to INS when it adjudicated the petition. In Poland we encountered applicants who were going to the United States to teach religious doctrine, whose claims to prior experience were shaky and who were unable to answer the most basic questions about the doctrine they would be teaching.

 Some cases also raised questions as to whether the applicant's services as a religious worker were needed in the United States and whether the applicant would be compensated sufficiently to make it unlikely that he or she would seek outside employment. However, it was our experience that if the sponsoring U.S. organization maintained its original claims regarding the need for the employee and the nature of the compensation, the petition, if returned, would be reaffirmed. As a result, we returned very few petitions to INS apart from those where the applicant appeared clearly to lack the required experience or the ability to do the religious work in the United States being offered by the sponsoring organization.

 Our efforts to investigate cases involving weak or questionable applications rarely resulted in a clear determination of fraud. As a result, most immigrant religious worker visas are issued even when there is a suspicion that they are being used as an easy path to immigration by an applicant who might otherwise find it difficult to qualify for immigrant status. It was my impression while serving in the field that the qualifying criteria for immigrant religious workers are not very stringent and that, without resorting to fraud, this category can be employed by applicants who have a sympathetic sponsoring organization as a relatively easy means to get immigrant status.

 Nonimmigrant religious worker visas, which require no previous religious work experience, present a different set of problems for the consular officer. The main problem is determining whether the applicant, if not an individual with a religious vocation, will be engaged in a religious occupation. Consular officers are presented with claims that a variety of seemingly mundane jobs with no clear traditional religious function are religious occupations because they are somehow related to the overall work of a religious organization. Because every religion presents a unique set of circumstances as to what might be a traditional religious function, it is difficult to sort out these claims. These cases generally do not present questions of fraud, but they do underscore the fact that the criteria for R visa eligibility have unclear boundaries.

 The fact that R visa applicants do not need to demonstrate a residence abroad that they have no intention of abandoning strikes most consular officers as a vulnerability in this visa category. R visas are sometimes issued to applicants who would otherwise be considered intending immigrants. It is difficult, however, to show that fraud is involved in such applications.

 In terms of numbers, fraud in religious worker visas was not a major problem in Warsaw. But, as a consular officer, I felt that the religious worker visa, as a result of vague eligibility criteria, presented a relatively easy path to gaining immigrant status in the United States and was on occasion exploited by applicants for this purpose.

 Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.