Inside visa fraud in India

Over the last two years, there has been increasing criticism of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's (USCIS) paperwork requirements for processing H-1B visas. But a newly released WikiLeaks State Dept. cable helps explain why the USCIS is being aggressive.

This stepped up enforcement follows a USCIS study, released in late 2008, that identified fraud and "technical violations" in about 20% of the visa applications it reviewed.

Since that report, companies applying for H-1B visas are sometimes asked to provide floor plans of their offices, photographs, copies of leases, and other documents to prove that they are real. Some feel this process is running amok.

Cisco was one of the companies that had to prove its existence, complained U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose Congressional district includes Silicon Valley, at a U.S. House hearing last month on the H-1B visa.

"I don't think anybody should ask to see a floor plan of Cisco to see if the company exist -- that's absurd, and yet that happened," said Lofgren.

Lofgren has a point, but creating fake companies is commonplace, according to the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, India, in a late 2009 report about visa fraud (via WikiLeaks).

H-1B fraud "is one of the top two visa categories for fraud throughout Mission India. All posts regularly encounter inflated or fabricated educational and employment qualifications," the consulate wrote.

In an 18 month period, the U.S. investigated 150 companies in Hyderabad that applied for H-1B visas of which 77% "turned out to be fraudulent or highly suspect," the consulate reported.

The consulate also reported that "the state of Andhra Pradesh, and Hyderabad in particular, has long been the hub for fraudulent document vendors in India." Separately, many of the students affected by the closing of Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, Calif., following allegations of visa fraud, were from this region in India.

Hyderabad's reputation as a visa fraud center is apparently well known.

During site visits in Bangalore, Chennai consulate officials "encountered several fictitious companies staffed by Hyderabadis. The Hyderabadis claimed that they had opened shell companies in Bangalore because 'everyone knows Hyderbad has fraud and Bangalore is reputable."

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