Saturday, October 08, 2005

Immigration Fraud (Part II): Visas for Sale

According to some well-informed sources of mine, it is still possible, even now after 9/11, to "buy" a visa to come visit the United States by bribing a corrupt consular officer. Given that a visa is the first step for anyone wanting to get on an airplane to come here, this is a very scary thought.

One of the main problems with the US immigration system is the amount of authority that is placed in the hands of a single individual: the consular/visa officer. In private companies, we prevent this type of corruption by employing segregation of duties: the person who writes the checks is not the same person who issues purchase orders, etc. However, with the US immigration system, the front-line officers are empowered to make unilateral decisions without having to verify these decisions with another individual. Because of this decision-making process, many visitors to the US will tell you that their chances of getting a visa depends more on the individual visa officer they get to see and what mood that person is in than it does on the relative merits of the individual cases.

With this type of unilateral decision-making process, it is relatively easy for a corrupt invidual to significantly boost his income level by accepting bribes. It is also possible for an individual to employ an overly harsh approach, denying cases that should be approved, leaving little avenue for appeal for the prospective visitor - a future post will give a few examples of this. Officers may even arbitrarily decide cases based on their own private reasons (racism, sexism, bigotry, etc.), with little room for questioning.

To prevent this type of abusive activity, the State Department should consider redesigning their business processes, so that the duties of assessing visa applications are split between two officers, both of whom must agree on the disposition of each case (approval or denial). If the two officers disagree on the disposition of a particular case, a third officer should be brought in to cast the deciding vote. While this type of process is more labor-intensive, it is far less susceptible to corruption, since both officers would need to collaborate with each other to take a bribe. In addition, this process would improve fairness by making it more difficult for an officer to apply an overly harsh approach or to decide cases based on his/her own private agenda.