It's a little like one of those sets of Russian nesting dolls, each one hiding and enclosing another slightly smaller one.
On the outside is America's useless (but legal) diversity visa program, which distributes 50,000 immigrant visas to aliens who have won a worldwide lottery.
On the inside of that is a well-organized program to steal the genuine visas from the legitimate winners of this silly program, particularly in Ukraine (once part of Russia).
And inside that illegal activity there's still another scam, forcing illegal marriages-for-visas on some of the gang-controlled winners of the lottery visas.
Then, off to one-side, are the long-suffering real relatives, the spouses and the kids, of those illicit visa winners, some of whom go off to America and leave behind their genuine relatives in favor of gang-selected phony relatives.
It's enough to make you dizzy — and sick.
All of this is revealed, if not in quite those words, by a recently released report by the U.S. State Department's Inspector-General.
The IG's report deals with Embassy Kyiv, i.e., the U.S. embassy in Ukraine in the city known to most Americans as Kiev, but since that's a Russian word, the State Department uses Kyiv, the Ukrainian spelling.
One of this embassy's biggest challenges is the extent of fraud in the annual visa lottery program.
This program assigns a maximum of 50,000 green card visas to those who win a worldwide lottery. To join the diversity lottery one must not be a native of a list of nations that already send us large numbers of immigrants (such as Canada, China, India, Mexico, and several others). Aliens may apply only once a year and must be either a high school graduate or hold a job that requires two years training, a sometimes slippery provision. In 2012 almost eight million people applied on behalf of themselves and 5.5 million more relatives. If you win you can bring in the immediate relatives you had at the time of the filing.
Filing is by Internet, and the government picks 100,000 or so names at random, and then State Department employees seek to sort out the fraudulent ones and those not really interested to provide visas to a number approaching 50,000. The odds for making the first cut are about one in 80 (100,000 vs. 8,000,000).
But if the government can use computers to pick potential immigrants by chance, fraudsters can corrupt the system by flooding it with diversity visa applications filed with the names of genuine people and then controlling the response process so that the gang, not the individuals, learns who has won. In many cases the first-round "winners" have no idea that their names were in the lottery until the gang tells them that they had won. But since the "winners" do not know the ID number that was used for their entry — and the gang does — they are at the mercy of the gang if they want to come to America.
The gangs, according to the IG report, charge as much as $15,000 for the ID numbers of the winners. In some cases, if the selectee wants to come to the United States but cannot or will not pay the full price, they are pushed into sham marriages with a member of the opposite sex who will pay.
The forced sham marriage within the corrupted diversity visa program scenario just cited is not the worst possible outcome of this scheme-within-a-scheme. Still more grim is this situation, as described by the IG's report:
A fraud ring may also require legitimately married diversity visa winners to obtain divorce certificates, engage in ... sham marriages, and leave minor children behind in order to emigrate to the United States. Eventually, the diversity visa winners may petition for the real spouse and children to join them.
The visa winners who play that game — hopefully they are not numerous — are as just as much scoundrels as the masterminds of the gangs.
Four closing thoughts: First, this sort of thing has been going on for years, as my colleague Jessica Vaughan, a former consular officer, disclosed in testimony to a Senate committee in 2008.
Second, there are ways to thwart these schemes that State has not implemented, such as changing the notification system from one that is Internet-based (from the U.S. visa office in Kentucky) to one that is based in the individual embassy, at least in nations where there are signs of massive fraud. More expensively, we could demand a fingerprint from each applicant, but we could put the expense on the alien who is applying.
Third, what does all of this fraud — much of it apparently detected in this case — do to the actual flow of diversity visas to Ukraine and other DV-heavy-traffic countries? We will get to that in a subsequent blog.
Finally, and most importantly, a possible answer to this challenge, one totally left out of the IG's report, is that the whole diversity visa program should be scrapped.
We do not need an additional 50,000 people who are lightly educated, who have no significant skills, and who have no particular ties to the United States arriving each year. That some of them come through a corrupt process, described by the IG, just makes the termination of the program that much more urgent.