A new report by the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Inspector General says organized fraud rings masquerading as travel agencies have taken control of the Diversity Visa program in Ukraine, using a pervasive and sophisticated fraud scheme affecting the U.S. visa lottery program as well as the intimidation and extortion of Ukrainian citizens.

The United States awards 55,000 Diversity Visas annually to the citizens of countries with historically low immigration rates to the U.S. They are granted through a random lottery system that does not take into account the applicants’ family relations, professional or personal background.

The fraud rings “buy, steal, or obtain from public sources personal information about Ukrainian citizens,” the report says.

The U.S. embassy in Kyiv estimates the groups are entering the names of as much as 80 percent of the population of western Ukraine into the online visa program, and continuing to enter them year after year. This happens often without the citizens’ permission or knowledge, preventing them from entering the visa lottery on their own because the computer system deletes duplicate applications. The fraud rings then have access to the confirmation number assigned online to the visa applicants, so if the U.S. State Department grants a visa to one of the applicants, only the criminals can facilitate the process. The criminals then contact the hundreds of Ukrainians selected and demand they sign a contract promising to pay up to $15,000 to get the confirmation number to pursue the immigrant visa application.

If the Ukrainian wants to pursue the visa but cannot afford the fee, the criminals may insist he or she enter a sham marriage with someone who wants to immigrate to the U.S. and has enough money to pay the fraud ring. The criminals might even demand the visa winner get a divorce from their actual spouse and get married to someone else willing to pay.

U.S. officials claim to make efforts to combat the fraud, including changing the interview questions to try to trip up applicants coached by the criminal gangs, but corruption persists.

ForUm has asked Ukrainian and foreign experts and diplomats to learn more about the Green Card problem and possible ways to fix it.

Valery Dubovyk, lawyer:

- Any statement, especially from official agencies, must be grounded and has proofs. Their talks that some criminal group has taken control over the Lottery cannot be taken seriously if they do not provide any evidence.

In general, there are so many scams being put over in our country... People do not want to work, but want to get money. Thus, before applying anywhere citizens should learn about this or that organization and make sure it is real, because even if one reports a fraud to the policy, swindlers are long gone. Any operation must be treated seriously, while our people grudge a minute to control what this or that organization is engaged into and whether it has any experience in the sector.

Press office of US embassy in Ukraine:

- The embassy and US State Department regularly issue warnings for participants of Green Card Lottery and update the list of possible scams. These documents are published on the official websites of the departments and released for the press. The report of the Inspector General simply confirms the situation, which has existed for many years now. Detailed information can be found on the website of US State Department: http://travel.state.gov/pdf/DV_2015_Instructions_ukr.pdf

Myloka Golbin, lawyer, expert of the project Universal Assistance, member of the inernatinoal organization PEOPIL:

- I doubt the US embassy has published misleading information. Such statements are not made public unless they are true. Working in the US system of human right protection, I can tell that to institute a case they need serious grounds. As for the very fact of scam, I would be surprise if it did not exist. The course of events is clear - Ukrainians started complaining about frauds and extortion, and America has reacted. 

As far as I know, scammers took a random number of people, mostly from Western Ukraine, their ID codes, which are very easy to obtain here, unfortunately, and then contacted them saying they had won the Green Card Lottery. Well, first of all, personal participation can prove it is not a scam. I would be very surprised if someone came to me saying I had won some Green Card, when I did not do anything for this. The embassy always says there is no application fee for registration, and no agencies or middlemen are needed to assist with registration. Thus, if you did not apply for the Green Card, but some man comes and says you can go to the US if pay 5,10,15 thousand dollars, I bet it looks suspicious.  

Henry Hand, consul general of US embassy:

- Both the embassy and the Department of State take every effort to prevent frauds in the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. The report of the Inspector General was published back in April and since then we have been taking proper measures and cooperating with relevant Ukrainian and American agencies to fix the problem. We have methods to define what applications are frauds, and we regularly hold outreach campaigns to explain the procedure. This scam situation is not unique for Ukraine, but is observed in other countries as well. The only way to be sure you are in control of the situation is to apply personally without any middlemen.

Yevhen Perebyinis, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman:

- This matter is out of the area of experience of the Ministry. The Green Card program is a domain of US government. If there are some violation in Ukraine, people should address law enforcement agencies, but the Ministry has no business in it. 

Taras Chornovil, expert on international affairs:

- This statement concerns not only and not so much Ukraine as the US itself, its representative offices and other structures. The Green Card is a document issued by the American side, thus it is them who must exercise thorough control over all documentation. And they do it, but the very fact of this statement proves that the American side does not perform its functions perfectly, and certain scams become possible.

As a rule, if there are problems and the country, providing Green Card, cannot conduct thorough investigation of foreign citizens (Ukrainians in our case) without assistance, it must appeal to local law enforcements for help. As far as I know, the US has not appealed to any Ukrainian law enforcement agency, thus this statement is a preliminary measure - just to show that the problem exists. Logically, Security Service, Interior Ministry or Prosecutor's General Office of Ukraine should expect US embassy's official request for assistance.

Unfortunately, American consulates are very closed, and visa and Green Card application procedures are very complicated, thus people seek easier ways, like agencies or middlemen or even sham marriages. As for various agencies, I must say it is a waste of money, as these agencies do absolutely nothing to help an applicant: they apply documents in the same way the applicant himself would do, and if the applicant wins, it happens legally, and not through assistance of some middleman. As for sham marriages, it is rather risky way, which may result into exclusion.

As far as I understand, media information and public statement of the embassy should be a sufficient ground for our law enforcements to start an investigation. However, it is not possible until the American party presents an official request.


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