The Office of Visa Compliance: A New Division of the Department of Homeland Security
June 6, 2003

With the elimination of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), a slew of new government agencies were created to take its place and assume its functions. The Office of Visa Compliance is set to be one of those new agencies, except that the functions it will be assuming were pretty much ignored by the agency previously charged with such responsibilities.

Under the umbrella agency of the Department of Homeland Security, 3 separate agencies were created to replace the INS: 1) the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), 2) the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) and 3) Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP). The functions carried out and the laws being enforced are really the same as when the INS was in existence, except that the names and organizational structure have changed.

On May 19, 2003, Asa Hutchinson, a former Congressman and now Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, announced plans for the formation of the Office of Visa Compliance (OFV), a sub-agency that will be under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The formation of the OFV is an outgrowth of the new nonimmigrant visa holder tracking system, known as U.S. VISIT, wherein better tracking and enforcement of the immigration laws pertaining to temporary visitors, worker and students is sought to be carried out.

Up to until recently, individuals entering the U.S. on a tourist, student or temporary work visa could avoid virtually all government detection or enforcement efforts by the INS mainly because the tracking of these types of visa holders was just not an important priority for the U.S. government. Yes, the immigration laws regulating the stays of these types of visa holders were on the books, but the INS had just not been equipped to carry out enforcement measures. In the old days, the only classes of undocumented individuals who would end up in removal/deportation proceedings would be those who were unsuccessful in their efforts to obtain some sort of immigration benefit, such as asylum or permanent residence, or those who ran into criminal problems with local, state or federal law enforcement authorities.

After September 11th everything about immigration law enforcement changed, especially because it was determined that it was the INS’ failure to track foreign nationals visiting or studying in the U.S. that was at least partially to blame. And we saw our first signs of new enforcement initiatives with the implementation of the special registration programs for certain Middle Eastern temporary visa holders in recent months. This program, in one form or another, will soon be expanded in gradual increments to practically all visitors, students and temporary workers, regardless of what part of the world they come from.

Although it is uncertain how large the OVC will be, the information it will seek to collect (and maintain) from foreign nationals visiting, studying or temporarily working in the U.S. will include a broad spectrum of biographic data, details of visa issuance and complete address information for the duration of their stay in the U.S.

Copyright © 2003-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois