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Cablegate: Humanitarian Resettlement Process Distilled

VZCZCXRO0861
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0061/01 0140331
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140331Z JAN 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3573
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3793

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 HO CHI MINH CITY 000061

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR PRM, PRM/A, EAP/MLS, AND CA/VO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM CVIS PREL VM
SUBJECT: HUMANITARIAN RESETTLEMENT PROCESS DISTILLED

REF: A. A: 07 HCMC 1281

B. B: HCMC 10
C. C: HCMC 39
D. D: 07 HANOI 2098
E. D: HCMC 20

HO CHI MIN 00000061 001.2 OF 005


1. (U) Summary: Roughly eighteen months into the two year
Humanitarian Resettlement (HR) process application period, the
pool of potential viable applicants appears to be almost
exhausted, as shown by an overall approval rate (ratio of total
applications to approved cases) of only two percent. There may
be a few hundred who have not applied yet. Thus far, slightly
more than 1,100 people have received approval to resettle in the
U.S. Many more -- about 150,000 counting eligible family
members -- have submitted applications for resettlement, but are
not qualified. Economically, Vietnam today is a far different
place than it was just a few years ago; those possibly
meritorious cases who might not have had the financial
wherewithal to even apply for resettlement a decade ago do not
face the same obstacles today. As noted reftel C, the changing
economy also means that a number of people whose personal
history of persecution may have qualified them for the program
are doing quite well(sometimes spectacularly well) in the "new
Vietnam" and have no desire to emigrate.

2. (U) (Summary, Continued) The GVN generally has been
cooperative with the HR process in tone and in substance, within
the limitations of its environment. Moreover, this cooperation
has improved over time, aided by a bilateral Joint Working Group
(JWG) mechanism that has built trust and good will. How the HR
endgame plays out will depend as much on the USG as on the GVN.
Key variables include whether and when the McCain Amendment is
renewed, the rate at which USCIS provides adjudicators, and the
extent to which the GVN will be amenable to providing visas for
our expat caseworkers after the HR application period ends.
Given these variables -- and the McCain Amendment in particular
-- it is entirely possible that the HR section will continue to
face a significant workload after the PRM staffing for the
section ends in 2009. End summary.

-----------------------------------
The Applicants: Blood from a Stone
-----------------------------------
3. (U) HR is the re-opening of three Vietnamese refugee
categories that were part of the erstwhile Orderly Departure
Program (ODP), an international effort to end the chaotic
departure by sea and land from Vietnam in the 1980's. At the
time ODP ended in the mid-1990's, there was some feeling in the
United States that a substantial number of eligible Vietnamese
had not been able to apply or complete applications for reasons
beyond their control. Some were too poor to obtain necessary
documents or to travel to Ho Chi Minh City from remote parts of
Vietnam. Others in remote areas had not learned about the
program or were not able to communicate with ODP. More
troubling were isolated accounts that Vietnamese authorities
interfered with or prevented some from communicating with ODP.
However, before closing cases, ODP made exhaustive attempts to
communicate by letter, telex, and telephone with applicants.
This succeeded in so many cases that there was no systematic
reason to believe that those who did not respond were suffering
GVN interference. Rather, it appeared that these persons were
not interested in resettlement.

4. (U) Vietnam has experienced rapid economic growth throughout
the intervening years although large parts of rural Vietnam are
still very poor. Relations between the U.S. and Vietnam have
improved substantially in the meantime and the internal
political climate is significantly less restrictive than when
ODP was operating. Therefore, most of the factors that might
have prevented people from applying before are much less
significant now.

5. (U) HR re-visited and re-opened three ODP categories: those
for former re-education camp inmates (HO), former USG employees
(U-11), and former employees of U.S. entities (V-11). Qualified
re-education camp inmates had to have been punished because of
their association with the USG or USG policies with at least
three years of re-education, or to have had at least one year of
re-education along with one or more of the following: training
or education on U.S. soil, a year or more of verified employment
with the USG, a year or more of verified employment with a U.S.
entity. Qualified U-11 and V-11 applicants had to have worked
for at least five years in their respective categories and to
have suffered persecution because of their association with the
U.S. Over a quarter (almost 16,000) of HR applicants to date do
not even partially fit any of these criteria. Almost two-thirds
of applicants (about 38,000) have made claims related to the
three categories, but have still not met basic requirements.
Most were not in re-education long enough. Others have little
or no evidence of claimed U.S. training or employment. Another
group has demonstrated credible evidence of combined USG and

HO CHI MIN 00000061 002.2 OF 005


U.S. entity employment that added together exceeds five years,
but there is no refugee category for such persons.

6. (U) Demonstrating eligibility for HO is relatively
straightforward. The GVN issued Re-education Camp Release
Certificates (Gia Ra Trai or GRT) to inmates upon their release
from camp. The standard certificate identifies the former
inmate, shows the dates of entry into and release from
re-education, and the reason for re-education. Some
certificates were issued without entry dates. The GVN can
verify many of these certificates and in some cases can supply
missing dates. However, records for some camps have been lost
through the intervening years. Some false certifications have
also been issued, according to our GVN contacts. Over the years
there have also been many accounts of solicitations for bribery
to issue false or inflated GRTs on the one hand, or of payments
to issue a correct document on the other. ODP caseworkers and
adjudicators commonly requested GVN verification of GRTs and we
have resumed that practice under HR.

7. (U) Those trying to qualify for HO "1+1" based on a year in
re-education and U.S. training or a year of employment with the
USG or a U.S. entity face a more challenging task. As with many
other Vietnamese refugee categories, the interpretation of
requirements for HO 1+1 shifted during the 1980's and 1990's.
By 1995, the erstwhile Immigration and Naturalization Service
ruled definitively that qualifying training had to have taken
place on U.S. soil. U.S. sponsored training elsewhere,
including on a U.S. warship, does not count. Nonetheless, many
individuals try to apply without qualifying training. After
being rejected for insufficient time (less than three years) in
re-education, many write appeal letters asking why their claimed
training was not taken into account for 1+1. The answer is
almost invariably that their training did not meet the criteria
or was insufficiently documented. These persons make up the
single largest set of rejected applicants.

8. (U) Demonstrating U-11 and V-11 employment is much more
difficult than demonstrating re-education. People have tended
to keep their GRTs. However in 1975, many Vietnamese, afraid of
being linked with the Americans, destroyed their employment
records. Time has taken its toll on the remaining records and
on memories. HRS checks all U-11 applicants with the National
Personnel Records Center (NPRC), which has confirmed the
employment of several hundred U-11s. Many V-11 employers no
longer exist and few of those that remain keep 30-45 year old
personnel records. Sometimes former Amcit bosses or co-workers
remember an individual employee, but it is rarer that they still
recall the duration of their old colleague's employment. A very
small number of applicants have qualified almost solely on the
basis of convincing secondary evidence such as photographs
combined with detailed accounts of their work experience.

9. (U) The HO category inherently includes a persecution claim
-- a long period in re-education. The publicized criteria for
the U-11 and V-11 categories do not. Applicants in these
categories must provide a credible persecution story. Many of
those who can demonstrate employment were not persecuted. To
their surprise, the lack of persecution disqualifies them.
Since the GVN has never allowed the persecution requirement for
the U-11 and V-11 categories to be publicized in Vietnam, many
otherwise qualified applicants are unaware of it. Many of these
individuals did not suffer any more than their neighbors did in
the years after 1975. For most, their qualifying employment
ended during the "Vietnamization" phase of the war in the early
1970's. They had two or three years to bury their past before
the Communist takeover. If the new authorities ever discovered
their past, it was often not until so long after the fact that
the authorities no longer cared.

10. (SBU) The day after the first announcement of HR to the
public in December 2005, several hundred people came to the
Consulate General seeking information about the process. Since
then, HRS and the GVN have distributed at least 108,000 HR
application forms. HRS has reviewed over 58,000 applications
with about six percent found qualified for presentation to
USCIS. The number and quality of new applications has declined
over time. The results from USCIS adjudications show an even
steeper decline in quality. USCIS approved about 70 percent of
applicants during the first circuit ride in 2006. The approval
rate during the most recent circuit ride was below sixteen
percent. It is important to note that the CIS circuit riders
only review those cases found to be most credible. The overall
approval rate for all applications received is roughly two
percent. While we anticipated that the number of persons who
could rightfully claim to be "refugees" derived from their
wartime and immediate post-war circumstances would be small when
we launched HR two years ago, we did not expect it to be this
miniscule.


HO CHI MIN 00000061 003.2 OF 005


---------------------
AN UNCERTAIN END GAME
---------------------
11. (U) PRM intends to cease staffing the slot for the HR
section chief when the incumbent departs in 2009. While this
decision is understandable when viewed in terms of the number of
successful applicants who actually immigrate to the USA as a
result of HR section operations, the section's workload is
largely determined by the total number of applicants rather than
the number of applications approved. There are two variables
that could have a large impact on concluding HR processing. On
the U.S. side, the most important variable is reauthorization of
the McCain Amendment. The McCain Amendment allows for the
resettlement of unmarried adult children of approved HO
applicants along with or following their parents. McCain
applications (1,149 currently pending) represent over one third
of the HR cases awaiting USCIS interview (2,734). The Amendment
lapsed at the end of FY-07 although language to extend it for
two years is in the FY-08 Foreign Operations Bill. While USCIS
has determined that it can adjudicate McCain applications
submitted before October 1, it cannot touch those received from
that date, unless and until the measure is reauthorized. Unless
the reauthorization contains language tying it to the end of the
HR application period, it will probably be necessary to continue
accepting McCain applications even after the end of the HR
application period. Earlier this year HRS was still receiving a
few McCain applications tied to ODP beneficiaries that resettled
in the U.S. over a decade ago. A late reauthorization of the
McCain Amendment will delay the completion of Humanitarian
Resettlement processing. The GVN is eager to see the completion
of the process and there is no U.S. benefit to stringing it out.


12. (U) Another variable that may impact processing completion
is GRT verification. While NPRC verifications are done
electronically and require about six working days on average,
the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has needed much longer to
check GRTs. Centrally archived GRTs are usually verified in no
more than six weeks. However, well over half of the GRTs for
which we have requested verification are not centrally archived.
If records of these documents exist at all, they are kept at
the provincial level by local authorities who move at their own,
often much slower, paces. Some of these verifications have been
outstanding for months and there is no telling how much longer
they will be. The GVN has also reported that it is often
necessary to check with multiple provinces because they cannot
tell where records of some camps ended up after numerous changes
in administrative boundaries and place names.

-------------------------------------------
The Process: Like a Python Digesting a Pig
-------------------------------------------
13. (U) Gearing up for HR, the then-Refugee Resettlement Section
in Ho Chi Minh City roughly tripled its staff. Then, in
response to requests for tens of thousands of applications,
staff more than doubled again, peaking at 45. We kept current
with requests for applications, but began to fall behind with
evaluating completed responses. The latter is a multi-step
process that must be completed by relatively difficult to
recruit and hire expatriate staff. The backlog to evaluate
completed applications reached more than thirteen weeks in
October 2006. Increases in efficiency (especially a new
front-end database tool that allows simultaneous searching of
six ODP archives), staff size, and a slowdown in new
applications allowed us to eliminate the backlog by May 2007.

14. (SBU) HRS informs unsuccessful applicants by letter. We
have found over 54,000 applicants unqualified and must clearly
explain why to them. This takes considerable effort; to date we
have sent letters to almost 44,000 of them. Refusals generate
appeals that come in the mail along with hundreds or thousands
of pieces of other mail each week. Although the number of
appeals is relatively small, a few thousand, sorting them out
generates considerable work. Although we are not required to do
so, reviewing appeals has allowed us to fine-tune our refusal
language and discover a small number of persons who may have
articulated a clearer claim for resettlement the second time
around, including a handful of Priority One cases. The
discovery of some possible Priority One cases in HR applications
led us to place greater emphasis on initial screening for
current persecution claims. A number of such cases are
currently in process.

15. (U) HRS contacts those who are qualified for presentation to
USCIS through the mail and sets up a date for prescreening with
an HRS caseworker. Prescreening is primarily to collect
information to create a case and ready it for presentation to a
USCIS adjudicator. The three available interview rooms created
a bottleneck in the whole process that we resolved in July 2007
by building two additional rooms. Under current conditions,

HO CHI MIN 00000061 004.2 OF 005


including planned USCIS circuit rides, we should be able to
finish prescreening HR applicants before the end of FY 2008.
During prescreening, the applicants' accounts are compared with
evidence gathered from other sources such as the NPRC. This
sometimes leads to the closure of cases before they are
presented to USCIS. For instance, there have been a few dozen
U-11 applicants with what initially seemed to be NPRC-verified
employment. During pre-screening these applicants described
employment histories that were completely different from what
NPRC found. Almost all of these cases have involved persons
with similar names and dates of birth. Sometimes they have
other evidence of USG employment, but most, if they were
employed at all, were paid with "Non-Appropriated Funds" and are
not eligible for resettlement. These persons were not direct
hires and included recreation association employees and private
domestic servants.

16. (U) After prescreening, applicants are scheduled for
interview with USCIS. Our latest estimate is that USCIS
interviews may be finished by around the end of CY 2008. The
USCIS Refugee Corp provides adjudicators for HR and is planning
four circuit rides during CY 2008 and another in early 2009 if
necessary. This is several months earlier than we had
previously planned for thanks to a welcome stepped-up USCIS
effort to complete this caseload. Cases deferred by USCIS will
take longer and the time required to complete any residual case
load cannot be estimated. There are still a handful of open ODP
cases that are now over ten years old.

--------------------------------------------- --------
The Bi-Lateral Relationship: Different, But (Mostly)
Constructive Approaches
--------------------------------------------- --------
17. (U) The bilateral mechanism for working out differences over
HRS processing is the JWG, which has met five times thus far.
The fifth meeting, on December 13, is reported reftel D. The
beginning of the HR process was marked by a number of mismatched
expectations between the USG and the GVN, but discussion within
the JWG has smoothed out most of these misunderstandings. The
USG is represented at the JWG by USCG HCMC officers (led by the
DPO); the GVN is represented by the MPS Department of
Immigration and Emigration, MFA Consular Department, MFA North
America Division, and MFA's HCMC ERO. The JWG has resolved
differences about the timetable of HR and about PIO efforts.
The GVN wanted the entire HRS process to be completed within two
years, but we have settled on a two-year application period and
a best effort by the USG to finish the process as quickly as
possible after that. The GVN announced early on that it wanted
to handle the PIO effort itself, but did not make clear that it
expected to be reimbursed for expenses. In January 2006, a
month into the six-month publicity phase, outreach efforts
stopped and the GVN asked for $70,000 to cover its expenses to
that point. This was a non-starter, but the two sides
eventually agreed to two additional shorter USG-funded PIO
rounds. The first, in June 2007, targeted provinces with low HR
application rates. The second, in January or February 2008,
will be a "last call."

18. (U) The GVN's paradigm for refugee resettlement processes
involves exchanges of lists. True to form, the GVN requested
several lists of HR applicants, including one showing "all
applicants." While the GVN later narrowed the scope of "all
applicants" to "all screened-in applicants," this is still
contrary to refugee confidentiality regulations. We have not
provided lists until after USCIS adjudication. The GVN response
has been to offer tantalizing bits of fraud information about
unspecified applicants including some in approved cases. When
asked to share enough so that we could take action, they have
replied that since they do not have the list of all applicants,
they do not know if the detected fraud is related to HR until it
is too late, adding that they do not consider it any of their
business to contradict our decisions on particular cases.

19. (SBU) JWG operations have become smoother as the two sides
have become more used to working with each other. Deputy
Director of Immigration and Emigration, Colonel Le Xuan Vien,
became the GVN's JWG chairman before the third meeting in
November 2006. He has been quick to identify points on which we
must agree to disagree (such as the exchange of lists) and move
on to more productive matters. Communications have become
quicker and somewhat less stilted as well, sometimes occurring
without the almost ubiquitous GVN insistence on diplomatic
notes. It appears that most remaining JWG business can be
conducted without face to face meetings of the entire group.
The GVN has signaled that it only wants to meet one more time,
at the end of June 2008, shortly after the end of the
application period.

20. (SBU) Paradoxically, GVN officials have also raised the idea
of expanding the role of the JWG to refugee matters outside of

HO CHI MIN 00000061 005.2 OF 005


HR. This makes a certain amount of sense since the players
involved are the same across these issues. The danger lies in
the GVN possibly equating the character of HR (a humanitarian
measure to deal with a problem that is essentially in the past)
with the current problems addressed through the Priority One and
Visas-93 processes. Some individuals in the GVN (in and out of
the JWG) have expressed interest in discretionary resettlement
based on the desire of the applicant. They see this as a way
for people who are not happy in Vietnam to leave legally,
regardless of whether they have a claim under any of the normal
refugee categories. This attitude may explain the surprising
ease with which a portion of our Visas-93 and Priority One
applicants receive necessary civil documents and passports. It
is possible that some in the GVN see these programs as safety
valves. On the other hand, GVN personnel, even members of the
JWG, often make little or no distinction between the respective
purposes of U.S. petition-based immigration and the U.S. Refugee
Admissions Program. This is one more example of the odd nature
of "refugee" processing in Vietnam.
FAIRFAX

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