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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly


STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN

 LAMAR SMITH

OVERSIGHT HEARING ON EVALUATING THE RELIGIOUS WORKER VISA PROGRAMS

SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION AND CLAIMS

HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

JUNE 29, 2000

The religious worker immigrant visa program allows American religious denominations large and small to benefit from committed religious workers from overseas.

 We are having this hearing because the visa program for non-minister religious workers expires at the end of the fiscal year, September 30. This Subcommittee needs to decide whether to extend the program and what safeguards to prevent fraud are necessary.

When the program was created, a sunset date was included because of congressional concerns about potential fraud. In considering the scope of an extension, we also must look at the level of fraud that exists. We can also take this opportunity to look at fraud in the "R" non-immigrant religious worker visa program as well.

 Fraud is in no one's interest, for as the State Department has stated: "Any future growth in use of the program will cause the development of a waiting list . . . . This will mean that each visa fraudulently obtained will delay the issuance of an immigrant visa to legitimate religious workers."

 In 1997, the State Department's Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs wrote to me that the Department has:

 "uncovered a troubling number of scams, both individual and organized, seeking to exploit this category to obtain immigration benefits illegally. . . . [Most] problematic are those cases that involve organized fraud rings in which documents of religious institutions in the U.S. are fabricated, or when the applicant colludes with a member of a religious institution in the U.S. to misrepresent either his or her qualifications, or the position to which the applicant is destined. The American Embassy in Moscow discovered a fraud ring in New York which fabricated documentation of several religious denominations in New York City on behalf of applicants who had no religious training and no intention of taking up religious occupations in the U.S. Several consular offices have reported suspicions that some churches in the U.S. have created fictitious positions solely to help an alien procure an immigration benefit."

Then ranking Subcommittee member Melvin Watt and I asked the General Accounting Office to conduct a study to determine the extent of fraud in the program. In order to provide assistance to the GAO, the State Department conducted a field inquiry to obtain the views of consular offices as to the level and type of fraud. Almost half of the responding posts that had issued a substantial number of religious worker visas reported experiencing fraud and abuse.

 The GAO report concluded that "both INS and State have expressed concern about fraud in the religious worker visa program . . . ." The report stated that INS and State Department officials were not confident that the agencies' screening process was identifying all unqualified applicants and sponsoring organizations.

We will explore the GAO's findings at today's hearing. We will hear about possible regulatory and statutory modifications to the program that have been proposed by officials at both the State Department and INS to limit fraud. We may also hear about why none of these changes have been implemented.

 My goal, as is everyone's on this Subcommittee, is to make the religious worker visa program a success, which operates as free of fraud and abuse as possible. I look forward to today's testimony.


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