Homeland Security watchdog raises red flags about visa screenings

Three recommendations came from the report and the DHS concurred with all of them.

The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General is urging that immigration authorities overhaul the Visa Security Program (VSP) amid an unprecedented migration surge under the Biden administration.

Under the VSP, federal agencies screen visa applications received at consular posts across 29 countries, the report noted. During its investigation, the watchdog observed that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not keep detailed records of these screenings and was therefore unable to confirmed that every application did in fact receive proper vetting.

Moreover, of the 120 applications the IG reviewed, it found 15 with potential issues. In 13 of these cases, analysts did not sufficiently substantiate their conclusions while a further two suffered from incomplete data due to problems with Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) data transfer system.

The review further found that CBP does not track costs associated with the VSP.

Three recommendations came from the report and the DHS concurred with all of them.

The Inspector General first advised that DHS officials "ensure analysts are following the requirements in the Visa Security Program's standard operating procedures and other guidance as they vet visas and document their activities." It further recommended that ICE fix the issues with the data transfer system.

Lastly, it advised CBP to "develop and implement a plan to track, in possible - or estimate, if tracking is not possible - the costs of National Targeting Center [NTC] activities associated with the Visa Security Program and report those costs to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement."

Included in the report were DHS responses to each recommendation and information they provided indicating steps the agency had taken to address each. It first highlighted efforts to make procedural handbooks available to employees in physical and digital forms as well as to include the presentation of such materials to new employees as part of an "onboarding" process.

DHS then responded that ICE had removed the 4,000-character limit on its data transfer system and was subsequently working to overhaul its entire interface. It also promised to compile an annual cost estimate for NTC support for the VSP, which will be available by the end of November of this year.

The report follows a separate one from the DHS IG earlier this month that found the department did not properly vet Afghan evacuees during the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban seized the country.

More than 79,000 Afghan refugees came to the United States during and after the mujahideen takeover of the country. The watchdog asserted that "dozens" of evacuees with known "derogatory information" were admitted and paroled into the U.S. during that time. The Inspector General recommended that DHS and its subordinate agencies take steps to identify and vet Afghan evacuees in the U.S. and to plan for a similar future crisis.

Neither DHS nor CBP concurred with those recommendations.