Immigration and Naturalization Service's Ability
to Provide Timely and Accurate Alien Information
to the Social Security Administration
Report Number I-2003-001
November 22, 2002
The Honorable James G. Huse, Jr.
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard, Suite 300
Baltimore, MD 21235
Dear Mr. Huse:
This is in response to your letter to me dated March 15, 2002. In your letter, you asked the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to assess whether the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) would meet timeframes for posting information about aliens into INS databases that are used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to issue Social Security Numbers (SSNs) to aliens.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the attention on the national security implications of issuing SSNs to aliens has intensified. As you have pointed out on various occasions, the current process for issuing SSNs is vulnerable to fraud because SSA procedures do not require the verification of an alien's immigration status prior to issuing an SSN. You have recommended that the SSA implement independent verification of documents from the INS until the Enumeration at Entry program was completed.1 In a 2001 Congressional Response Report, you suggested that the SSA obtain verification from the INS as to an alien's immigration status before issuing an SSN.
In your letter to me, you stated that it is your understanding that delays have occurred in the INS's initiatives to enter information about aliens in INS databases, and you expressed concern that INS management of its data entry contractors may not be sufficient and could negatively impact established timeframes. You therefore asked us to assess the likelihood that the INS will meet established timeframes for the following initiatives:
To address your questions about the INS's ability to meet these timeframes, we believe it is important to describe the visa application process and to assess the INS's timeliness in updating NIIS and its implementation of the enumeration phase of DataShare. Our review therefore discusses the visa process from the time aliens file visa petitions through their entry into the United States, and the process used by the INS to provide immigrant and nonimmigrant status information on aliens to the SSA. A copy of our report, "Review of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Ability to Provide Alien Information to the Social Security Administration," is enclosed with this letter.
In this letter, we summarize the specific answers to your questions about the INS's ability to meet identified timeframes for updating information into its databases.
1. Will the INS meet established timeframes to update ASVI and NIIS approximately one week after the nonimmigrant is admitted to the United States?
According to the information we received, the INS never established a 1-week standard for updating NIIS. In your letter, you cite new data entry standards announced by the INS in December 2001, which require that INS ports of entry ship Forms I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, to the INS's data entry contractor within two days of the nonimmigrant's admission into the United States. The new standards also require that the data entry contractor process the Forms I-94 and upload the data into a database within three days of receiving the forms. From this information, you inferred that the NIIS data would therefore be available to the SSA within five days of a nonimmigrant's admission. However, this conclusion was not correct, because the new INS time standards apply to only a part of the entire procedure necessary to process the admission records and update NIIS. When the data entry contractor completes processing the Forms I-94, the data is transmitted to another database contractor at a different location for additional processing, which requires more time before the information is uploaded into NIIS.
ASVI is the electronic system that acts as an information conduit that allows the SSA field offices to access selected NIIS data elements. The INS updates NIIS with Forms I-94 data after a nonimmigrant is admitted and it uploads selected NIIS data elements into ASVI. That data is then available to the SSA field offices through the ASVI database. The availability of the required information is dependent on updating the selected NIIS data elements, not on updating the ASVI database.
In response to our review, the INS estimated that the entire process to upload nonimmigrant information into NIIS should take approximately 11 to 13 workdays, not 5 workdays. The INS does not track the actual time required for the collection and processing of the information. Based on our review, we believe the INS's estimate that NIIS data will be available to the SSA within 11 to 13 workdays after a nonimmigrant is admitted into the United States is based on reasonable approximations and assumptions. In fact, an informal survey conducted by your staff in September 2002 showed that 60 percent of the Forms I-94 data was available to the SSA within 10 calendar days of nonimmigrants' admissions into the United States.
2. Will the INS meet established timeframes to implement the enumeration phase of the Department of State (DOS)/INS Immigrant Visa DataShare process?
We concluded that the INS is prepared to implement the enumeration phase of the DOS/INS Immigrant Visa DataShare process when the SSA completes its modifications for DataShare. We found that the INS is able technologically to provide the SSA immigrant status using DataShare. The INS and the DOS have shared immigrant petition and application data using DataShare since 1995. The DOS has successfully transmitted immigrant visas from 15 consular posts to the INS, which accounted for 60 percent of the immigrant visas issued by the DOS. Since the DOS expanded DataShare to all its 126 visa-issuing consular posts, the INS has not experienced any significant technological difficulties with the process.
We found that the INS and the DOS have already made software modifications to accommodate the SSA's participation in DataShare. In June 2002, the INS and the DOS tested their portions of DataShare and stated that they are confident that their portions of the system work. However, the SSA did not participate in the test because it was addressing the communications protocol and data formatting convention issues.
We hope this letter and the enclosed report are helpful to you in addressing the issues you asked us to examine. If you have any questions, please contact me on (202) 514-3435, or Paul Price, Assistant Inspector General for Evaluation and Inspections, on (202) 616-4620.
/s/ original signed
Glenn A. Fine
|cc:||James W. Ziglar
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Vickie L. Sloan