Ukrainian fraudsters are duping the State Department’s diversity visa program to extort cash from Ukrainian citizens and gain access to American Social Security numbers, a new report by the department’s inspector general alleges.
“Organized fraud rings masquerading as travel agencies have taken control of the Diversity Visa program in Ukraine,” the report claims.
Begun in 1990, the diversity visa program allows citizens from underrepresented countries to vie for one of 50,000 visas available through a yearly raffle system. Prospective immigrants need only send a photo, basic biographical information and a signature to be entered into the computerized lottery.
But that simplicity created an unexpected problem. Investigators discovered that organized crime elements in Ukraine were buying, stealing or obtaining from public databases the basic personal information of Ukrainian citizens and then entering that information into the State Department’s automated green card lottery.
Once an individual is selected for a diversity visa, the criminals receive the confirmation code and offer to provide it to the unwitting entrant for $15,000. If he or she refuses to cooperate, the fraudsters often threaten violence. Many victims without cash are forced to enter sham marriages with individuals interested in immigrating to the United States, leaving behind friends and family in the process.
“The fraud ring’s involvement continues after the selectee enters the United States,” the report continues, claiming that the criminals apply for and receive the individual’s social security card and retain it for “misuse.” Selectees are also required to send money earned in America back to the Ukrainian mob, which the report calls “indentured servitude.”
The inspector general estimates that fraudsters enter around 80 percent of western Ukrainians into the diversity visa lottery annually, leaving millions at risk of extortion every year.
“Fraud has been an issue in the diversity visa program in Ukraine for years,” said David Seminara, a former U.S. diplomat and a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.
“My sense is that Foreign Service Officers on the ground in Kiev have been working to combat it, and have probably been asking State to fix this problem for a very long time,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But their concerns obviously haven’t been addressed.”
The inspector general suggested that diplomats in Kiev manually notify diversity visa winners and double-check to ensure selectees’ addresses are correct. “At the very least, State should follow the procedural recommendations in the inspector general report,” Seminara said.
But Seminara believes the massive fraud should prevent Ukraine from being on the list of nations eligible for diversity green cards. In fact, he thinks it may be time to retire the program altogether.
“Let’s go ahead and scrap the entire green card lottery,” he wrote on Monday. “We can afford to be picky about who we let in, so there is really no point in admitting people based on the spin of the wheel.”
“Would you hire someone to babysit your children via a random lottery?” he asked. “Then why should we invite people to live here in such a fashion?”
This isn’t the first snag caused by the automated diversity visa program. In 2011 a computer error caused the entire raffle to be re-run, shattering the hopes of thousands who thought they’d finally made it to the United States.
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