Visa Backlog and Long Waiting Periods Spawns Scam:

Victim of a “USCIS” Scam? Take a Number.

A stream of "official" calls causes a flood of visa victims.

The visa backlog and long period to wait for petition approvals have spawned a scam targeting both petitioners and visa beneficiaries.

USCIS recently issued an alert about a new telephone scam targeting USCIS customers.

Matthey Oh, Immigration attorney and advocate reports that “most of the victims who have notified USCIS about this scam are nonimmigrants from India.”

The USCIS alert states that scammers are using a technique called "Caller ID spoofing" to display a misleading or inaccurate phone number in a recipient's Caller ID. The scammer pretends to be a USCIS official and asks for personal information such as Social Security number, passport number, or alien number. They claim there are problems with the person's immigration records, and ask for immediate payment to "correct" those records.  To check the official update on this scam alert, click here http://blog.uscis.gov

The Potential Targets/Victims

Every year, there are 65,000 H-1B petitions worldwide; 20,000 for those applying outside of the 65,000 cap; 66,000 for the H-2B petitions.  There are more applicants than there are visa numbers, hence the number of applicants are easily twice the allocation. This is true especially in the Family-based petitions.  Last year, 124,000 H-1B petitions were received for the 65,000 annual cap.

Unlike the nonimmigrant visa petitions, however, Family-based petitions – when complete, paid with the correct fees and sent to the correct USCIS – are retained, not returned. Therefore, each complete application adds up to the total.  H-1B petitions that do not make it for a specific fiscal year gets returned and does not add up to a backlog.

As of November 2012,  there were close to 10 million visa applicants in the Family-sponsored and Employment-based categories: Family-sponsored total - 4,299,635 with more than half under the F4 (Adult sisters/brothers of US Citizens - 2,473,114). That was two (2) years ago. This does not include petitions filed by those who got their Family-sponsored and employment-based petitions, another 4,412,693.

Since new immigrants also file new petitions, 

Imagine just 1% of these individuals with visa petitions calling up the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for an update or status of the petition daily. That’s 100,000 callers everyday.  If each caller pays at least $100.00 to "correct" their records, the scammers are making $1 million daily.

And there is only one number that they can call - 1-800-375-5283.  The number is toll-free so the temptation to call is great.  While each call is routed to a set amount of call center agents (contracted by the DHS/USCIS) there is still a 20 to 30 minute wait.  If you are making an overseas call, it is not free.

The backlog, long period of waiting for updates, and the volume of visa applicants has spawned a new scam.  The USCIS warns the public about a recently discovered scam, calling visa applicants as well as petitioners claiming that there are problems with the person’s immigration records.

“Official Call  and ID Number“

The person receiving the call sees a simulated USCIS number displayed (for those with phones that have Caller iD feature). Since the call appears to be “legitimate and official” the petitioner or visa applicant is asked about personal information such as Social Security number, passport number, or alien number.

To correct or solve the “immigration problem” the scammers (pretending to be with the USCIS) asks for payment.  If the person pays by credit card, the scammers could then use the credit card number for purchases since the personal information had been provided.

What to do? 

The USCIS says you should call the USCIS Number - 1-800-375-5283 if you have questions, concerns or problems, For those who have been victimized, they could seek remedy from the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/, or report the matter to an appropriate state authority.

You may also call the Immigrant Visa Center at +632-634-8717 - and have a real person take your call and answer your questions in a minute or less. 

Got a question? Let us know - we're here to help.

About the Author

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.


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