Improving Visa Security
Have you ever wondered what steps are involved in ensuring that terrorists, criminals, human rights violators and frauds do not receive visas to the United States?
The 9/11 Commission Report and Section 428 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 delivered a crucial mandate authorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assist the Department of State (DOS) with visa adjudication by identifying these potential threats, thereby adding an additional tier of security to the visa process with a new enterprise: the Visa Security Program (VSP).
By October 2003, the VSP, organized under Immigrations and Customs Enforcement ‘s intelligence and security division, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE/HSI), deployed its first agent to begin operations in Saudi Arabia, and by 2007, the Program gained approval for a five-year expansion. In 2011, an audit by the GAO resulted in a report that cast doubt on ICE’s ability to accurately measure its success due to a lack of performance data. The report also addressed concerns regarding operations, communications, and training. Since the report was published, the VSP’s most significant effort at addressing these concerns is twofold: a new case management system, VSPTS-Net2.0, and bringing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into the consular process via access to the new interface. By cooperating with CBP, HSI employs a “tie-breaker” for consensus on adjudication. Often, when VSP and consular officers disagree on visa issuance, CBP offers guidance from a travel perspective: that is to say, if DOS issues a visa against HSI’s recommendation, CBP advises whether they will admit the traveler at the border.
VSPTS-Net2.0 has also lessened the administrative challenges of performing headquarters screening, vetting, and Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs). Specifically, it provides an automatic process by which online visa applications and open cases are uploaded to DOS’s Consolidated Consular Database (CCD) and run against CBP’s Automated Targeting System (ATS), eliminating the need for manual vetting in other law enforcement and intelligence databases.
VSPTS-Net2.0 has improved efficiency and provided accountability with regards to the time dedicated by each component of the visa security process in screening and vetting visa applicants. The is a measured step toward providing better performance data, improving communication among stakeholders, and employing technology to improve a cumbersome multi-partner process.