US officials have expressed concern that middlemen are encouraging Cambodians on a wide scale to commit fraud in order to apply for American visas.
Travel agents, visa facilitators and organized fraud rings are telling Cambodians that they need documents—such as bank statements and education certificates—that they don’t have and which need to be counterfeited before they can apply, a US government official said.
In reality, applicants often do not need such documents, but when the fraud is uncovered, they run the risk of being barred from the US for life, Clay Adler, regional fraud prevention manager based at the US Embassy in Bangkok, said in an interview in Phnom Penh last week.
“There’s a lot of money at stake. People pay big bucks for fake documents,” Adler said.
“There’s really so much misinformation out there, and that’s because of these visa facilitators and travel agents that are going out and selling their services for outrageous fees, telling people they need these things,” he said.
Officials declined to say how many cases of fraud they have uncovered in the application process in Cambodia, but said the problem is considerably worse than in Thailand.
The US Embassy in Phnom Penh is preparing to issue a warning to visa applicants about so-called visa brokers or fixers.
“Anyone who claims they can guarantee visa issuance or expedite visa processing is lying,” the embassy said in a draft copy of its warning.
“The embassy treats allegations of fraud or malfeasance in visa processing very seriously,” it adds, and calls for the public to contact the embassy if they are aware of fraud cases.
Adler said he has received reports that Cambodians pay up to $40,000 to stage fake marriages and other relationships in order to obtain immigrant visas.
Immigrant visas are granted based on an applicant’s family relationship to someone already in the US or special arrangements with an employer.
Non-immigrant visas are granted to tourists and students.
A common fraud scheme might involve a Cambodian paying for a middleman to arrange a marriage with a US national solely for the benefit of obtaining an immigrant visa.
The two might then divorce once the Cambodian had successfully traveled to the US and live separate lives.
“The interviewing officer will seek to determine if the applicant’s story is credible…. We try to ascertain, is this a real relationship? Or is this just on paper for immigration benefit?” Adler said.
Adler said that there is plenty of fraud in the non-immigrant visa process as well.
Some Cambodians seeking tourist visas might present fake bank statements to prove they have the money to ensure they will return to Cambodia, officials said.
Fraud is so enmeshed in the application process that the embassy relies little on documents such as birth certificates, education certificates and marriage licenses, Adler said.
Instead, embassy officials rely mostly on interviews.
The US Embassy announced last month that it had fired three Cambodian consular employees over issues of visa malfeasance following an investigation by diplomatic security officials.