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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

LONDON 15 Regent Street London SW1Y 4LR United Kingdom Tel: (44.20) 7830 1000 Fax: (44.20) 7499 9767 E-mail:

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An Economist Intelligence Unit briefing paper Sponsored by IntegraScreen (now DataFlow)

Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Contents 3



Executive summary


Chapter 1: The global boom in migration Why people want to move The debate intensifies Migration: not always a good thing?


Chapter 2: The scale and implications of document fraud The spread of fake academic documents Points-based immigration systems

National security implications A scam for all seasons

Links to organised crime 17

Chapter 3: Verifying the facts An increasing workload Deepening immigration screening Databases and background checks Endorsing degrees in China



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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

© 2007 Economist Intelligence Unit. All rights reserved. All information in this report is verified to the best of the author’s and the publisher’s ability. However, the Economist Intelligence Unit does not accept responsibility for any loss arising from reliance on it. Neither this publication nor any part of it may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Economist Intelligence Unit.


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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Preface Paper chase: Document fraud in the immigration process is an Economist Intelligence Unit briefing paper, sponsored by IntegraScreen. The Economist Intelligence Unit's editorial team conducted all research and interviews and wrote the report. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsor. The report was written by Bina Jang and Graham Richardson. The editors were David Line and Claire Beatty. The cover image was designed by Steven Carroll. Our thanks are due to all interviewees for their time and insights. September 2007

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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Executive summary The steadily increasing propensity of people to migrate from one part of the world to another is seen as a necessary and desirable trend. At the same time, however, it is a thorny and emotive problem. The developed world is set to witness an influx of over 100m people between 2005 and 2050. Ageing populations and skills shortages create a demand for workers that the developing world can supply. But it is not just people from developing countries who are migrating; global mobility is a trend seen in all countries and at all skill levels. The challenge of smoothing immigration procedures for qualified migrants while keeping the doors closed to less desirable entrants means many governments have been forced to put immigration and border protection at the top of their agendas. To cope with these pressures, governments are bolstering their immigration-screening practices. Measures include capturing biometric data, adopting objective points-based screening systems, extending their networks into source-country institutions, and international border collaboration. However, these efforts are directly threatened by the proliferation of fraudulent documentation. To take one example, in the fiscal year 2005, US Customs and Border Protection apprehended 84,000 individuals entering the US with fraudulent documentation. Despite the scale of the problem, there are no standardised international procedures for document verification. Paper chase: Document fraud in the immigration process examines the rising trend of global migration, the extent of the challenge posed by fake documentation in policing this migration, and the merits of establishing international procedures for controlling migration and verifying documents. The report was researched and written


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by the Economist Intelligence Unit and was sponsored by IntegraScreen. The key findings include:

• Labour mobility is a global and increasingly widespread trend. The volume of international migration is likely to remain high over the next few decades. People will continue to want to move for several reasonsincluding wage gaps and the desire to re-unite with family already abroad. But the issue is politically sensitive, and the debate over the pros and cons of immigration in host countries is likely to intensify.

• Governments see the economic benefit of allowing inwards migration. Skilled labour is becoming increasingly mobile, and with skills shortages and slow population growth in the developed world, governments recognise the importance of allowing free flows of labour. Although incentives to let in migrants from the developing world are therefore rising, there is little international consensus on how migration should be managed.

• The demand for fake documents is growing. The need for particular skills is prompting governments to implement more “objective” systems to grade potential immigrants. Pointsbased or similar systems—whereby immigrants are prioritised according to education and skill levels, amongst other factors—seem likely to become more popular. In turn, however, this will increase the incentive to forge documents supporting educational or skill-level claims. The proliferation of fake academic certificates is a particular problem.

Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Chapter 1: The global boom in migration Migration numbers will continue to increase—as a necessary, and desirable, part of globalisation. But screening qualified migrants, particularly ensuring that immigrant workers have the skills they claim, will remain difficult. Public debate on immigration is already leading to a desire for more highly targeted controls—but there is a lack of any consensus on how to proceed.


nternational migration has exploded. Globalisation, growing trade integration and better transportation have facilitated the movement of people across the world in recent decades, and large flows of people are likely to continue. The UN’s World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision reports that the net number of migrants to developed countries is set to grow by up to 103m between 2005 and 2050, or by 2.2m people annually, rising to 2.3m a year after 2010. Most of these migrants will be coming from Asia— over 1m a year, with rather smaller numbers from Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa. The big draw—as ever—is North America, which will

take over 1.3m new migrants a year. But nearly 1m will go to Europe each year too, according to the UN. Current data from the OECD also suggest acceleration in immigration in recent years. According to International Migration Outlook (2006 edition)2, the UK saw its inflow of migrants climb from 228,000 in 1995 to 379,300 in 2000 and then to 494,100 in 2004. North America recorded an inflow of almost 1.07m permanent settlers in 2000, growing to 1.18m in 2004. In addition, 1.25m temporary migrants entered the US in 2000, and their numbers increased to a little below 1.3m in 2004. As the OECD data make clear,

Migration flows ('000 people, annual averages) 1980-1 1990

1990-2 2000

2000-2 2010

2010-2 2020

2020-2 2030

2030-2 2040

2040-2 2050

More developed regions








Less developed regions








Least developed countries








Other less developed countries




















































Europe Latin America and the Caribbean Northern America Oceania Source: UN, World Population Prospects: the 2006 revision.1

1 World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision, Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (2007). Available at 2 Available at,3343,en_2825_494553_38060354_1_1_1_1,00.html


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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Population inflows for selected OECD countries ('000 people) 2000



























Inflow data based on population registers:

Netherlands Spain

Inflow data based on residence permits or on other sources: Australia Permanent inflows






Temporary inflows






Permanent inflows






Temporary inflows



















South Korea


















Permanent inflows






Temporary inflows






EU + Norway and Switzerland (as of 2004, excluding Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Slovenia)






North America (permanent)







Source: OECD, International Migration Outlook, 2006 edition

this is not an issue that just affects the affluent countries of North America and Western Europe. Of the other OECD members, South Korea took close to 190,000 migrants in 2004 and Turkey over 155,000. The OECD is careful to point out that methods for collecting immigration data vary, as do the categories of individual that they cover (for instance, they may or may not include asylum seekers). But, even so, it is interesting to note the extremely large discrepancy between UN and OECD data regarding past immigration into EU

countries. The implication is that this is not just a problem of data consistency—but that nobody really knows what is going on.

Why people want to move

There are other reasons to believe that the UN’s forecast of 2.3m migrants a year until 2050 may be erring on the low side. In fact, annual global migration exceeded this level in the 1990s, and is likely to do so again in the first decade of this millennium. The reasons behind this growth are not hard to identify. The World Bank identifies

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three push-pull factors: • the wage gap between developing and developed nations; • existing migrant populations in developed nations pushing to re-unite with family and friends (the UN estimates that, in 2005, 3% of the global population was foreign born, compared to 2.2% in 1980);3 • ageing populations and slowing growth of indigenous workforces in developed countries. But this is not just poor labourers in search of a crust. “What is clear is that people are moving across the globe at all skill levels—there is mobility not just of people of lower skill levels but also of the highly skilled and the highly educated,” says Deborah Meyers, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a US-based think-tank. And host countries may increasingly want migrant workers—if their skills match the country’s needs. Securing the Border, a March 2007 strategy paper from the UK Home Office,4 acknowledges that the country’s economy continues to benefit from globalisation, and that “continued growth has come from international trade and investment, and from the ability of British business to fill gaps in the labour market that cannot be filled from our own workforce. Engineers, teachers and other experts from abroad fill these gaps, making important contributions to the UK through tax and revenue, as well as developing our links with foreign countries.” International students not only bring revenue in terms of tuition fees, but also in terms of spending on goods and services. Similar benefits accrue to the US, which is the world’s premier destination for international students. For its part,

Canada has over the past decade welcomed educated migrants with flexible skills, and as a result has seen its stock of foreign-born residents climb from 4.8m, or 16.6% of the total population in 1995, to 5.7m or 18.0% of the total in 2004.5

The debate intensifies

Immigration is already subject to many controls across the world. Such controls seem more likely to be extended than reduced in coming years. There are a variety of reasons for this, both social and economic. There seems to be a growing belief in the populations of many countries that they are “full up” and unable to accommodate further large numbers of migrants; domestic political pressures to put the brakes on immigration are therefore increasing. At the same time, there is a more reasoned debate going on about the overall benefits and risks of immigration. Is the arrival of large numbers of migrant workers simply displacing existing populations? Or is the flow of skilled labour from the developing to developed world irreversibly damaging the former’s prospects? There are many unanswered but important questions, and some developed countries find it difficult to discuss them, let alone answer them. The issue is so highly political that it has often been kept off the agenda for public policy debate. Few would disagree with Deborah Meyers’ view that this “is a phenomenon that is beyond the control of any single government. It is a phenomenon that needs to be managed.” But getting a multilateral accord on migration flows looks difficult—movement of people, unlike trade in goods and services, is something that remains

3 Trends in Global Migrant Stock: The 2005 Revision, Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations

Secretariat (2007). Available at

4 Securing the Border, United Kingdom Home Office (March 2007). Available at 5 OECD, Migration Outlook Edition 2006, op cit.


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largely unregulated. The current legal framework is feeble. Existing international law provides a basic, but imperfect, structure for immigration controls. Whilst states have the broad authority to regulate the flow of nationals across their borders, this authority is limited by the rights given to individuals by international law. There are international conventions regarding the status of refugees, migrant worker rights and people trafficking, amongst others. But some of these conventions have been ratified by only a few states. (Only 27 states have signed up to the migrant workers’

convention, for example, and none of these are major destination countries for migrants.) The weak institutional and legal framework means that any shift to a more rigorous multilateral regime will be difficult. As importantly, different countries have wildly different needs and problems in immigration control. This is a problem—and an opportunity— that countries are going to have to manage on their own. Host countries have responded to the current inconsistencies with different regimes. As the UN’s Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM)6 pointed out, in Asia many

Migration: not always a good thing? Most developed-country leaders acknowledge that migration is inevitable—indeed vital—to keep their economies humming. Tony Blair, then prime minister of the UK, in a foreword to a February 2005 five-year strategy paper entitled Controlling our borders: Making migration work for Britain7 noted: “Managed migration is not just good for this country. It is essential for our continued prosperity.” According to Mr Blair, visitors from outside the EU spent over £6bn (US$12bn) annually in the UK, and those from within the EU billions more; overseas students spent a further £2.7bn on goods and services and £2.3bn on tuition fees. He added that the country’s vital public services depended upon skilled staff from overseas: foreign-born nurses and doctors for the expanding National Health Service, for example, or the expertise of IT and finance professionals from India, the US and the EU to maintain London as one of the world’s foremost financial centres.

But the effects of immigration are more complex than a politician can easily admit. Studies by academics such as Professor John Salt, of the Migration Research Unit at University College London, point out that mass immigration implies profound changes to the social infrastructure of a country—for example, to the skills levels of the existing population, to the demand for housing in cities and so on.8 The conclusions of such studies can be unwelcome—particularly if they imply that immigration reduces incentives for the indigenous population to obtain certain skills, or if it is depressing local wages. Such issues cannot be overlooked, particularly if they are connected to wider anti-globalisation protests. The perception that immigration serves to widen social inequalities (through reducing the cost of services for the rich, whilst driving down wages for manual labour) is likely to be particularly persistent.

6 Migration in an Interconnected World: New Directions for Action, Global Commission on International Migration (2005). Available at 7 United Kingdom Home Office (2007), Controlling our borders: Making migration work for Britain. 8 Migration Research Unit, University College London (2007).

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migrants move on the basis of temporary labour contracts, whilst in parts of the Americas and Africa, migration is largely irregular. Traditional destination countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US continue to accept migrants for permanent settlement and citizenship, adds the report, while nations in the Middle East tend to permit migrants within their borders only for fixed periods. But none of these regimes are perfect, and immigrants remain desperate to get in. This has the unfortunate effect of encouraging a resort to criminality. The UK Home Office estimates that up


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to three-quarters of illegal entry to the UK—such as human trafficking and people smuggling—is facilitated by organised crime (see Chapter 2). But it also recognises another growing headache. “False documents submitted in support of applications are a huge problem when determining if someone should come to the UK; in some countries fraudulent documents are endemic,” the Home Office's strategy paper notes. Anecdotal evidence from the visa offices of other attractive destination-countries such as the US and Australia seems to support the opinion of the UK authorities.

Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Points-based immigration systems Australia Various categories for workers, students and other migrants, each with different requirements. For general skilled labour visas, applicants must be under 45 years old, have suitable English ability and postsecondary education (in most cases). Skills must fit those on lists of certain occupations. Points are scored against following criteria: skill, age, English ability, work experience and qualifications in Australian institutions. Other factors, such as having an occupation in demand or making capital investments in Australia (buying government bonds, for example) earn bonus points. (Certain “skill-matching” visas, for applications in certain occupations nominated by a state or territory government or employer, are not points-tested.) Pass marks for pointsbased applications vary but are around 120 points for independent (non-sponsored) visas. Point scores of between 40 and 60 are awarded for different occupations, with 20 points available for English fluency and 10-15 for having completed a postgraduate course at an Australian institution. Sponsorship by a relative who is already an Australian permanent resident or citizen earns 15 points. (Various revisions are to be introduced from September 1st 2007.) Age requirement and relative

sponsorship require certified copies of birth certificates or family registers, other criteria require “documentary evidence” and are subject to unspecified background checks. Canada Various categories for workers, students and other migrants, each with different requirements. Points-based system for skilled workers (in occupations as defined on the Canadian National Occupational Classification list), based on six selection criteria: education, ability in English or French, experience, age, sponsorship by employer in Canada and “adaptability” (that is, whether applicant has relatives in Canada or previous work or study experience there). Migrants must also have sufficient funds to maintain themselves and their families. The pass mark for skilled workers and professionals is 67 points; of which education provides up to 25, language ability up to 24, experience up to 21 and other criteria up to 10 each. Valid supporting documentation for applications includes “education documents or other certificates attesting to the educational level, employment letters confirming work experience, language test results, police certificates, birth and marriage certificates, and bank statements confirming the applicant’s funds”. No description is given of checks

made on such documents. UK Points-based Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) in place since 2002. Beginning 2008, new comprehensive points-based system to be introduced, replacing more than 80 types of entry condition with five tiers: “highly skilled”, “skilled”, “low-skilled”, students, and temporary (or non-economic) migrants. Points are scored against following criteria: qualifications, previous earnings, prior experience as a student or employee, age and participation in an MBA scheme. For example, for the new HSMP requirements, applicants must score 75 points (plus have suitable English language skills) for acceptance, where a PhD scores 50 points, a Masters degree 35 and a Bachelor’s degree 30. The guidance states: “Points will only be awarded where specified evidence is provided to show that you have been awarded the relevant academic or professional qualification from an accredited institution.” Such qualifications need approval from relevant UK bodies to qualify as evidence. With regard to the age requirement, points are granted only to those under 32; an original birth certificate or driving licence is required as evidence. For the MBA provision, points are only awarded to graduates from a list of recognised institutions.

Sources: Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship website,; General Skilled Migration guidance booklet, available at; Citizenship and Immigration Canada website,; Regulatory Impact Assessment—A Points-Based System: Making Migration Work for Britain, available at;UK Border & Immigration Agency, Highly Skilled Migrant Programme Guidance for Applicants, available at


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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

authentic documents (FADO) to combat illegal immigration and organised crime. FADO aims to facilitate the fast and simple exchange between member states of information concerning genuine and false documents. The FADO database will contain images of false and forged documents,

genuine documents, and information on forgery and security techniques.14 While this will help in determining fraudulent documentation, it will not identify or enable the sharing of information about specific individuals.



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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Chapter 3: Verifying the facts Host countries are developing immigration screening programmes, as increasing migrant numbers threaten to overwhelm traditional monitoring systems. Their response has been twofold: to try to “deepen” the screening process so that it starts in the migrant’s home country, and to introduce more objective systems for immigration control. Both types of evaluation require massive investments in labour and technology (eg, biometric passports) and cannot provide an easy solution. Deeper immigration screening may also require increased co-operation between the host government’s own systems and outside agencies.


he task faced by immigration authorities in screening potential immigrants is vast. Developed countries’ consulates in popular migrant source towns may process thousands of visa applications a week-of which a substantial number will be rejected. The UK alone received almost 2.75m visa applications in 2006/07, of which 81% were accepted.15 As well as issuing visas, receiving countries for migrants have to check that their passports and supporting documentation are correct at the point of entry-no mean feat, if one considers the number of people coming through airports and ports. The UK Home Office notes that in 2006 more than 4,000 forged or counterfeit documents were detected at UK ports; many more presumably slipped through the net.16

An increasing workload

The situation is similarly stressful for US immigration officials and is highlighted in an article published by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in the US.17 The CIS reports that the US Consulate in Mexico City conducts an unrealistically high number of daily interviews of visa applicants, with each US consular officer handling 150-200 applicants in a span of five to

seven hours. This means an average of about two minutes per application, during which the consular officer has to review documents, ask questions in Spanish, determine whether the applicant qualifies for a non-immigrant visa, and fill out the requisite paperwork. The high volume of interviews means that a consular officer hears the same stories repeated frequently, and the “desensitising monotony” of this endless flood of applications is not conducive to quality screening, says the CIS. It adds that for the applicant using fraudulent documentation to enter a country, it is easier to mislead a tired consular officer than to take the hazardous—and decidedly more expensive—alternative of an illegal border-crossing facilitated by people smugglers. This story should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt since the CIS has a conservative anti-immigration agenda, but the pressure on consular officials is confirmed by anecdotal evidence and interviews conducted for this paper. Moreover, the US Department of Homeland Security admits that on arrival to the US, travellers present over 8,000 different types of documentation and that this number must be limited in order to help officers zero in on the forgeries.

15 United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UKvisas Annual Report 2006/07. Available at

16 Securing the Border, op cit

17 Nickolai Wenzel, Centre for Immigration Studies, "America's Other Border Control" (August 2000)

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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Other countries are also coming closer to admitting that major changes are needed. The Australian immigration department’s review of its information-technology (IT) systems in 2006 recommended a radical multimillion-dollar overhaul of its hardware and software infrastructure, as well as its project-management capability, record-keeping and recordmanagement. The review was in part prompted by two very public embarrassments for the Australian immigration authorities—the unlawful deportation of Vivien Alvarez to the Philippines in July 2001, despite her being an Australian citizen, and the illegal detention in 2004 of Australian resident Cornelia Rau, falsely thought to be a German overstayer. As mentioned, countries seem likely to move increasingly to a points-based system for prioritising immigrants. This already exists in Australia; applicants are given points for educational and skill levels, amongst other things. The UK is phasing in a similar system. But such schemes will provide an even greater incentive to potential immigrants to forge documents claiming high educational status or specific skills—making the document-verification process yet more crucial. The consensus is that this process must begin at migrant's countries of origin if it is to be effective.

Deepening immigration screening

Countries increasingly believe that they cannot identify all potential undesirable immigrants at the point of entry; they seek therefore to “deepen” the process by carrying out more checks within the immigrant’s own country. This can be done at different levels, but each adds an additional layer of complexity to the immigration process.

18 UKvisas Annual Review 2006/07, op cit


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First, some form of risk-related assessment still needs to be done within the immigrant’s own country—both of the applicant’s suitability for a visa, and of the supporting documentation. This is no easy task in many countries, as one US consular official based in southern China reports. Although fake passports are a rarity, efforts to screen other documents in China are hampered by widespread fraud. “You can’t trust any [personal] documents in China”, the official says, explaining that the market for supplying fraudulent papers in support of visa applications is vast and growing quickly. On one occasion, the official recalls, a visa interviewee who had neglected to bring a birth certificate left to “find” the document and returned from a printing shop across the road minutes later, new certificate in hand. However, the fact that the authenticity of documents is widely questioned means there is at least a level playing field, the official claims. The assumption is made that the document in question is fraudulent unless it is proved to be genuine. But finding the proof is a labour-intensive and timeconsuming process. In India alone, the UK visas authority identified 140 companies set up to provide bogus employment references for visa applicants. It also notes that in 2006/07 UK officials detected over 12,600 fraudulent documents used to support applications in Lagos alone.18 For those individuals who are not required to obtain a visa before entry, one solution is for a secondary electronic-checking system to send passenger lists to the host country before the immigrant gets on the plane—meaning boarding can be stopped if some anomaly is picked up. Even when an immigrant is on the plane to the host

Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

country, their details can be further checked-so that they can be turned back on arrival. The technology to do this already exists. For 16 weeks until February 2007 London’s Heathrow Airport ran a test of a system that uses biometrics for identification, known as miSense, in conjunction with the UK immigration authorities, Cathay Pacific Airways and Emirates. The trial was by most accounts a success. Biometric systems have already been tried out at many other airports by immigration control authorities. In some cases, biometric systems have been implemented in one form or the other to verify passenger identity—for example, in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Australia. Another initiative is SPEED, which is available to Hong Kong permanent identity-card holders flying frequently between Hong Kong and London. SPEED was jointly conducted by the Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong’s Immigration Department and Cathay Pacific Airways from January to June 2007. Like miSense, SPEED was run to test the principles of the Simplifying Passenger Travel (SPT) programme, initiated by the International Air Transport Association. As its name suggests, the SPEED model aims to integrate airport, immigration and airline processes in real time. Passengers who enrol in SPEED have superior online check-in and baggage handling facilities, immigration control, security clearance and aircraft boarding. In addition, they can participate in IRIS, or the Iris Recognition Immigration System, developed by the UK government and Sagem, which permits automated entry clearance. It is expected that the use of biometrics will greatly assist automated verification. Such systems essentially use pattern recognition to identify users by authenticating their unique physiological or behaviourial traits. Increasingly these systems are being introduced to

authenticate immigration applicants’ identity, as well as to screen travellers. The UK, for example, is rolling out a system to include biometric data in each visa granted. But there are snags in relying on technology of this nature. For a start, “These systems are not yet compatible and interoperable worldwide,” notes Thomas Romig, airport manager for information technology (IT) with the Airports Council International, a Geneva-based association of airports. One of the SPT’s tasks is to facilitate this “harmonisation” so that such systems are rolled out on a long-term basis to allow a passenger travelling between different locations to be verified at all ports of entry and exit. Can biometrics be deployed in isolation of other verification procedures? “No system is foolproof,” says Mr Romig. “However, some are better than others and it can be said that biometrics, although not foolproof, is very robust…The technology used has been developed to minimise the possibility of spoofing or fooling the system. It is very hard to use another person’s biometric as it would mean that the biometric would have to be presented to the control point; unless the person—or their biometric—is present the identification will not take place.” He adds that many biometric verification systems being used worldwide are fully automated and do not require manual intervention except in unusual occurrences such as false documentation. But biometrics has prompted concerns about privacy issues—and divergent attitudes. One side warns that using biometrics would enable the authorities to “police” an individual’s movements worldwide. The other side argues that biometrics would be just another technology that uses an individual’s personal details to enable a modern life, for example, using an ATM, a mobile phone, the Internet or a machine-readable passport. “There may be privacy issues with biometric

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Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

data being held in databases as this is based on national legislation,” says Mr Romig, “but from the greater public’s point of view, it has to be understood that biometrics will only improve security and, in some cases, hopefully make life easier for people.” Indeed, individuals willing to register their private details could even turn to private identification services such as Edentiti, developed by an Australia-based company of the same name. The product offers 100 points of identification to an individual based on their associations with other individuals and organisations. Both sides have to agree on the association for it to be considered verified. At a rather simpler level, identity verification services provided by the private sector are becoming more common, particularly in the US. For example, Intelli-Check, based in New York state, markets ID-CHECK technology, which according to the company blurb reads, analyses and verifies the encoded data in magnetic strips and barcodes on government-issue IDs from about 60 jurisdictions in the US and Canada to determine the validity of content and format. But applying this approach to other supporting documentation may be more difficult: very few university-degree certificates are barcoded, for example.

Databases and background checks Official forecasts and back-of-the-envelope calculations both suggest that migrant numbers are likely to remain very high for the foreseeable future. Individual countries continue to struggle with the implications of this volume for visa control. Improved national systems and more coordination between government agencies are unlikely to solve matters. Although biometric passports and data can link individuals with an identity, they will not on their own prove that the documentation supporting that identity is valid. So, visas will continue to be issued based on


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fraudulent documentation. Document verification will also remain imperfect, with volume being the major inhibiting factor. The substantial numbers of visas processed for the major migrant destinations will continue to put their systems under strain; better riskassessment systems will mitigate the problem, but not solve it. Similarly, a harder-headed approach by receiving countries (for example by refusing to issue a visa to anyone who has been caught using bogus documentation in the past) will not stop those desperate for a new life. Various nongovernmental initiatives (including in the private sector) have been launched to tackle this problem. Organisations checking educational qualifications seem to be the most established. The Australian firm IDP, for example, has long been engaged in checking the educational qualifications and background of foreign students applying for further courses in Australia. In the US, the National Student Clearinghouse-a not-forprofit organisation-has now been verifying educational qualifications for 13 years. Another Australian firm, VETASSESS, is the only nondomestic organisation authorised to access China’s database of validated educational certificates (although this is said to cover diplomas more effectively than degree certificates). IntegraScreen—the sponsors of this report—Global Screening Solutions, L-1 Identity Solutions, Digimarc and LexisNexis are among the private-sector firms offering document screening and identity verification services. Employment history checking is also being developed, with some of these organisations involved in on-the-ground research, maintaining offices in source-countries such as India and China and building up databases on individuals and bogus companies set up for the sole purpose of supplying fraudulent documents. There is already collaboration between such

Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

Endorsing degrees in China China's authorities are worried about the threat posed by fake degrees to the reputation of their educational institutions. In response, they have established the China Higher-Education Student Information and Career Centre (CHESICC) to endorse and verify all secondary-school and degree certificates. It has a database that stores the student's name, sex, date of birth, college/university, subject studied, course level, graduation date, ID certificate and graduation photograph, and the serial number of the candidate's diploma or certificate.

firms and governments. Although pre-employment screening has traditionally been the greatest source of revenue for these companies, there is evidence to suggest that contracts with government immigration departments are a potentially fruitful avenue of growth. Some countries have reported success with these initiatives: the United Arab Emirates, for example, in September 2005 began verifying the educational qualifications of all applicants for managerial work permits. The UAE’s ministry of labour reports that over 180,000 qualifications have since been screened by a third-party verifier, and it plans to expand the programme. But such systems are untested on a larger scale, and problems with sharing information between firms are likely to impede the establishment of global document-verification systems. Then again, perhaps standard document verification is not the only answer to the problem. Kevin Cox, founder and chief technology officer of Edentiti, a small Australian organisation that is still trying to convince others about its approach, says that the process of document verification is

The drawback is that CHESICC has only authorised certain domestic educational bodies and one foreign organisation, VETASSESS (an Australian migration document-verification and training firm), to carry out verifications. Other governments and businesses would have to go through Chinese universities and notaries in order to try to check on authenticity, as its database for degrees (if not diplomas) is widely seen to be inadequate.

outdated. “The document that an organisation gives you is essentially a copy of their records,” says Mr Cox. “In a sense it’s like a letter of introduction, the same concept. But we don’t have to do that now we’ve got the Internet.” Edentiti believes that the best way to solve the problem of fraudulent documentation is for individuals to build up their own identities— initially getting third parties to verify the documentation supporting their life story. So you might take your degree certificate, get it verified by a third party, and then post it on your own personal webspace (or on a smart card at home). The biometric linking the identity to the documentation is a voice print: Edentiti rings the individual if access to data is requested, and needs to get an affirmative voice print to continue. Whether such a system of verification can work on a sufficiently large scale is open to question, however, while the technology and the applications remain in their infancy—and are often unavailable to those developing-country migrants most desperate to build new lives abroad.

© The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007


Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process



here are few areas of consensus when it comes to global migration: exactly the scale of the issue, whether it injects fresh talent into developed economies or undermines local labour markets—everyone has a strongly held opinion. On one issue there is agreement, however: global migration requires increased control. Countries need to be able to determine who enters their borders to ensure people with the desired skills or other attributes come in, while those who are unqualified (or who present a security threat) stay out. So what steps can governments take, in order to know with relative certainty to whom they are granting or denying entry? Borders must seem welcoming to holidaymakers, yet rigorous processes must be in place to vet those who are planning to stay and work. Difficulty in getting visas, the unpredictability of entry requirements, and unfriendly customs officers are having a seriously damaging impact on tourism, according to 25 US city mayors surveyed by the Travel Business Roundtable, a US trade association for the travel industry. This is certainly something that governments would wish to avoid.19 In an ideal world, to ensure reliable identity verification, source-countries would create a single database that would track birth, education and marriage certificates, driving licenses and criminal records. Immigration officials from foreign countries could, with permission from a would-be migrant, access the information and verify easily the identity and credentials of a given individual. Currently, countries are a long way from sharing this kind of information on the kind

19 More information available at


© The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007

of scale necessary to perfect border screening. Moreover, it would have serious implications for civil liberties if personal information were tracked in this way. However, setting up organisations that can validate an individual’s personal documentation could be an important step. For example, the body established in China to verify and register educational certificates could be replicated in other countries where fraudulent diplomas are endemic. The next step would be to grant qualified access to overseas immigration departments. Or perhaps migrants would be asked to prove their identity in their own country before applying for foreign visas. Destination countries such as the US and those of the EU can build up databases of valid and false documentation to help customs recognise forgeries, although the effectiveness of these databases in fraud detection still relies on immigration officials having the time and expertise to use them. Private-sector firms might perform the labour-intensive and painstaking work of combing through the background data— but the responsibility for border protection is unlikely ever to be outsourced, and will remain labour intensive. Either way, whether immigration screening is tightened through a co-ordinated multilateral effort or in partnership with the private sector, the goalposts will keep shifting. The advent of the Internet and other advances in technology will mean that the supply and sophistication of forgeries continues to grow, and fake documents will remain difficult to detect.

Paper size: 210mm x 270mm

Paper chase Document fraud in the immigration process

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An Economist Intelligence Unit briefing paper Sponsored by IntegraScreen

EIU Immgiration Risk paper  

Document fraud in the immigration process An Economist Intelligence Unit briefing paper Sponsored by IntegraScreen (now DataFlow) 4 Executiv...

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