Fraud Found In Religious Worker Visas

Mimi Hall, USA Today, April 18, 2007

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Officials say they have uncovered rampant fraud in a religious worker visa program that allows thousands of foreigners into the USA each year.

“We found that the program had been compromised and the fraud rate was excessively high,” said Emilio Gonzalez, head of Citizen and Immigration Services at Homeland Security.

Government investigators first uncovered problems with the visa program in 1999, including applicants who were unqualified for the jobs they were hired for. Last year, a fraud-detection unit in the Homeland Security Department found that 33% of the visas investigators examined were granted based on fraudulent information.

The visa program was established in 1990 to allow churches, synagogues and mosques struggling to fill jobs to hire qualified foreigners. Under the program, applicants must have a sponsor in the USA and attest that they are qualified to fill a particular job.

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Under the new rules, which should take effect by fall, “we’re going to visit” the religious organization before an application is approved, Gonzalez said.

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Laila Al-Qatami of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said she understands “their desire to tighten up the program.” But she said she hopes Homeland Security will ensure that inspectors are educated about Islam. “In particular with mosques,” she said, “we’ve found people are generally suspicious of them.”

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