Border Security:

New Policies and Increased Interagency Coordination Needed to Improve Visa Process

GAO-03-1013T: Published: Jul 15, 2003. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2003.

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Since September 11, 2001, visa operations have played an increasingly important role in ensuring the national security of the United States. The Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Justice, as well as other agencies, are involved in the visa process. Each plays an important role in making security decisions so that potential terrorists do not enter the country. In two GAO reports, we assessed the effectiveness of the visa process as an antiterrorism tool.

Our analysis of the visa process shows that the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Justice could more effectively manage the visa process if they had clear and comprehensive policies and procedures and increased agency coordination and information sharing. In our October 2002 report on the visa process as an antiterrorism tool, we found that State did not provide clear policies on how consular officers should balance national security concerns with the desire to facilitate legitimate travel when issuing visas; and State and Justice disagreed on the evidence needed to deny a visa on terrorism grounds. In our June 2003 report, we found that State had revoked visas for terrorism concerns but that the revocation process was not being used aggressively to alert homeland security and law enforcement agencies that individuals who entered the country before their visas were revoked might be security risks; and the process broke down when information on revocations was not being shared between State and appropriate immigration and law enforcement officials. These weaknesses diminish the effectiveness of the visa process in keeping potential terrorists out of the United States.

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