Fraud found in religious worker visas
By Mimi Hall
April 19, 2007
The Homeland Security Department plans to begin inspecting religious organizations in an effort to prevent radical groups from using a special government visa program to get terrorists into the country.
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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Homeland Security's proposed rules, to be released today, would allow inspectors and Customs officials to:
Inspect religious organizations sponsoring applicants to make sure they are legitimate. In 2004, Muhammad Khalil was convicted of filing more than 200 false applications. His mosque, which was in the basement of a store in Brooklyn, was smaller than he had portrayed it and could not employ all the people he wanted to hire, according to court documents.
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.
Require more proof from applicants that they are trained and qualified to for the job they're being hired to do.
Review W-2 forms or other proof of employment after one year on the job before extending the visa.
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.”