SOCIETY

What do ex-workers at US consulate in HCMC say?

Tuoitrenews

Updated : 06/04/2013 11:20 GMT + 7

“Is it time for Americans to give back the lost rights and interest to us, or will they continue to cover up for each other?”, a former staff member of the non-immigrant visa department at the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City wonders.

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The staff member, who identified herself as H, talked to Tuoi Tre about Michael T. Sestak, the former head of the department who has been detained for a visa fraud scam in which he received US$50,000-70,000 per visa in bribes from Vietnamese residents seeking visas between March and September 2012.

H. spent 14 years at the non-immigrant visa department of the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

She was among the employees who were dismissed in September 2012 when the head of the department, Michael T. Sestak, left his position and returned to the US in preparation for active-duty service with the Navy. Sestak was arrested more than two weeks ago.

The department had about 15 Vietnamese employees who worked with five American officials.

Sestak was appointed to head of the department in August 2010. He worked in a military manner as he came from the Navy, and he spoke Vietnamese fluently. 

When he needed to determine whether a visa should be granted to someone, he would use his power to decide it more by feeling than by reason H. said.  

H. once witnessed a general director and a beauty queen visiting the consulate to visit Sestak, and subsequently coming to his office as friends. The two guests were later granted visas without submitting any papers.

H. then reported her concerns about Sestak to the consulate’s security section, but they did not respond.
H. claims she knew nothing about the relationships between Sestak and applicants since he was often absent from his office.

“I personally was rewarded US$50 for discovering counterfeit school reports and house and land papers… However, in the period before Sestak returned to the US, all of us fell under suspicion,” H said.

They were no longer allowed to take part in granting visas or examining applicant’s files.  They were banned from using mobile phones and had to record everything they had done in a book.

After being laid off without any compensation or insurance payment from the consulate, the staff lodged a complaint to Vietnamese competent agencies, who later told the workers that the consulate is an American diplomatic agency, so they could not handle the complaint.

Now that the visa fraud scheme has been uncovered, H. and her former co-workers wonder whether or not the suspicions of the American towards them have been eliminated.

We also wonder if the American will bring back the lost rights and interest to us, or if we will continue to screen each other, H. said.

“Complicated”

Some sources said that the visa departments, both for immigration and non-immigration, are “very complicated”, and even Vietnamese workers there also committed visa-related wrongdoings.

“It is a common thing to see Vietnamese staffs there dismissed. In some cases, many employees are fired at the same time for visa-related mistakes,” the source said.

Meanwhile, cases of visa wrongdoings involving American officers are usually handled silently, with almost no related information being disclosed, according to the source.

When Sestak left the consulate, at least eight officers from the immigrant visa department were suspended pending investigation of their alleged offenses.

A few months later, five of these people were allowed to resume work, while the three others were fired.

As previously reported, Sestak, 42, was arrested quietly in southern California more than two weeks ago and has been charged with violating Title I8 USC § 371 by conspiring to defraud the United States and to commit offenses against the United States, that is, visa fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546 and bribery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(1) and (b)(2), according to DSS. 

Sestak had five co-conspirators in the scam, through which he earned nearly US$4 million and used most of the money to buy at least 13 properties in Thailand.

One of the conspirators, Hong Vo, a 27-year-old Vietnamese-American woman, was arrested in Denver, Colorado on May 8. Vo is an information technology expert.