August 30, 2010
The Department of State has recently confirmed the commencement of its independent verification of information contained in visa applications. Sam Shihab & Associates also confirms that some of its clients have been contacted by the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) via contractors by telephone as part of the process. However, some of our clients complained that the questions asked were quite intrusive and were not related to the visa applications. For example, some of the questions were about company profit margins. The initial announcement of the program was on November 17, 2007 when the Department of State (DOS) and the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) said that NIV petitions would be reviewed through a program that focused on information verification.
Consular officers began to track petition information through the use of the Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) as well as the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD). The KCC audit on NIV petitions was structured to verify information and correct mistakes in the visa petition applications. One specific aspect of the audit authorized consular officers to make an unannounced phone call to the petitioner in order to obtain and verify the information that was provided to the USCIS when the visa petition was submitted. They claim that the outcome of the audit is critical in order to accurately process and further the status of visa petitions.
Along with the announcement, KCC approved fifteen contractors to individually contact petitioners. Through the embassies, KCC is responsible for reviewing the visa petitions that are obtained from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After the initial review process, the contractors verify and obtain the necessary information. Then, any corrections or additional steps are taken in order to advance and finalize the petition. The idea is that contractors specifically review and gather information on the petitioner as well as the beneficiary. In the past, DOS found that visa petitions were lacking important information when KCC received them from USCIS. The contractor was supposed to focus on the company website, the contact information, and the physical location of the company’s office in order to ensure the validity and existence of the petitioner. The contractor also performed random phone calls to petitioners in order to gather information about the beneficiaries.
DOS explained that the NIV audit was designed to maintain and advance the accuracy of the visa petition process. According to the KCC, information obtained from petitioners during the KCC phone call helped advance and determine the outcome of the petition for the visa at the embassies. KCC could contact the petitioner any time after the petition was received, but normally before the visa was issued. The petitioner and its attorney were advised to confirm the name of the KCC contractor assigned to them. Private information would be discussed and shared during the conversation, so the petitioner needed to make sure that the phone conversation would take place with one of the fifteen allegedly qualified contractors.
DOS warned that any negative or inaccurate documentation given to the contractor can be investigated by USCIS. False information can lead to civil penalties or criminal prosecution. The overall initial outcome of the audit and the creation of a database were successful according to KCC. The intent was to assist in the accurate completion of visa petitions by verifying and maintaining detailed and complete petitioner information. Sam Shihab & Associates, believe that these types of inquiries are unconstitutional as the scope of the investigation expands beyond the normal information shared or required to be shared in a visa petition and the safeguards of such information obtained through the use of third party contractors is suspect and unsubstantiated.