2010-02-05 08:01:00
Embassy Ulaanbaatar
Cable title:  

Consular Outreach Initiative in Mongolia Pays Off,

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DE RUEHUM #0036/01 0360801
R 050801Z FEB 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Consular Outreach Initiative in Mongolia Pays Off,
Suggesting Useful "Lessons Learned" for Other Posts





E.O. 12958: N/A

SUBJECT: Consular Outreach Initiative in Mongolia Pays Off,
Suggesting Useful "Lessons Learned" for Other Posts

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A close review of consular statistics from
Mongolia for the last three years suggests that post's Consular
outreach efforts have achieved good results. The program, launched
in 2008, helped shape a higher quality applicant pool, increased
awareness about legal avenues for immigration and reduced visa
fraud. As a result, the number of patently unqualified applicants
declined by approximately 50 percent while the number of
applications from qualified students and exchange visitors as well
as business/tourist travelers expanded. We also increased awareness
of the diversity visa program while reducing the number of confirmed
visa fraud cases by 17 percent. In addition, the outreach
initiative improved understanding among the Mongolian public on how
the American visa process works and changed Mongolian perceptions
about the U.S. embassy. From our perspective, such outreach efforts
offer a cost-effective way to mitigate the impacts of a high refusal
rate. The purpose of this cable is to describe and assess our
outreach efforts, with a view toward providing "lessons learned"
that may be of interest to Consular Affairs as well as other posts.


2. (SBU) Mongolia in 2007 was a high fraud post and had one of the
highest refusal rates in the world. The typical applicant was
young, single, and unemployed with no prior travel but a strong
interest in long-term English language training. In reality, the
real motivation in most cases was to work in the United States while
possibly taking some ESL classes at night. These applicants spent
at least $350 on the application process, wasting our time and their
money. Perhaps not surprisingly, the high refusal rate led to a
widespread and discouraging belief among many Mongolians that it
would be impossible ever to visit the U.S. It also contributed to
fraud and fostered a cynical attitude among many Mongolians about
the U.S. Embassy as well as the United States.

3. (SBU) In 2008, the Consular Section, fully staffed with two
experienced consular officers, responded to this negative situation

by launching a robust public outreach initiative to inform the
Mongolian public, provide accurate information and respond to
misinformation. The Embassy outreach strategy, developed and
supported by both the Consular Section and the Public Affairs
Office, had three main goals: (1) shape the applicant pool and
improve its quality; (2) increase awareness of legal avenues of
immigration; and (3) reduce fraud. Using a mix of speaking
engagements, media outreach, and paid advertising, the outreach
effort achieved a very positive impact, resulting in a lower refusal
rate and an improved work environment.

Goal 1: Shape and Improve the Applicant Pool

4. (SBU) Our primary goal was to shape the applicant pool by
discouraging obviously unqualified student applicants while
encouraging more qualified ones. In 2007, over 80 percent of all
student visa applicants were unqualified, leading to a very high
refusal rate which in turn fostered negative attitudes toward the

5. (SBU) The outreach effort initially focused on students who made
up the largest pool of unqualified applicants. Responding to this
concern, Consular officials spoke at every single major university
in Ulaanbaatar at least once, reaching several thousand students in
groups ranging from large audiences involving as many as 400
students to smaller settings with as few as 20 students. We also
spoke at the American Corner, participated in several student fairs,
visited colleges and universities in the farthest corners of the
country, and created and distributed a Mongolian language brochure
detailing options for students wishing to visit or study in the
United States. In cooperation with the Embassy's commercial
section, we also reached out to Mongolia's business community,
addressing a variety of key business groups as well.

6. (SBU) Media outreach formed an important part of the strategy and
significantly extended its impact. With support from the Public
Affairs Office, we extended invitations to journalists to attend
every outreach event. In addition, Consular officials gave
countless interviews involving both short "question and answer"
sessions as well as longer private discussions for both print and
broadcast journalists. Finally, a bi-weekly "Ask the Consul" column
was introduced, providing an important outlet for spreading accurate
information in one of the country's leading Mongolian language


Goal 2: Highlight Legal Immigration Options

7. (SBU) Our second goal was to raise awareness about legal
immigration channels and opportunities for working in the United
States. The vast majority of applicants viewed student and tourist
visas as their primary and perhaps only avenue for immigrating to
the United States. We wanted to disabuse potential applicants of
this notion, turning the focus instead toward legal immigration
mechanisms such as the Diversity Visa (DV) program. By sharing
information about this program, we wanted to make it more difficult
for unscrupulous visa brokers to prey on Mongolians who lacked
information about the U.S. visa process.

8. (SBU) We started by reworking our website for the DV lottery,
making it easier for interested Mongolians to find relevant
information. We then hired a locally available videographer and
produced a 30-second commercial highlighting the DV lottery. During
the registration period, we issued a press release about the
program, placed a paid ad in several newspapers and, with Public
Affairs assistance, ran the commercial on every single major
television station. The advertising led to several additional
media requests including a 45-minute nationwide call-in television
program and a three-page print interview.

Goal 3: Reduce Fraud and Use of Visa Brokers

9. (SBU) Our third goal was to reduce fraud in visa applications and
especially reduce the use of visa brokers. In 2007, 44 percent of
all fraud investigations revealed fraud, resulting in more than 100
people being banned for life from the United States. Even otherwise
qualified applicants would hire visa brokers to assist with the
process and submit fraudulent materials. Indeed, according to
popular perception the only way to obtain an American visa was to
engage in fraud. The rampant fraud, driven by a combination of
misinformation, desperation, and recruitment by visa brokers, also
made the visa adjudication process much more problematic.

10. (SBU) Our outreach efforts explicitly addressed the issue of
fraud. For example, an anti-fraud warning was included in every
outreach event as well as in all published material. Some
initiatives focused specifically on fraud while others, such as the
commercial on the DV program, included a clear warning about the
dangers of using visa brokers. Fraud warnings featured prominently
in the visa section of the Embassy website. In an effort to be
pro-active, we also placed classified ads warning about visa fraud
in several Mongolian language newspapers that regularly featured
advertisements by visa brokers feeding on the hopes and dreams of
Mongolians desperate to reach the United States.

Outreach Pays Off - Evidence for Its Efficacy

11. (SBU) As a result of this outreach effort, the number of
unqualified Mongolian students applying for visas has gone down by
some 67 percent: in 2007, 3,308 Mongolians had their applications
for student visas refused, compared to 1,099 during 2009. The
decrease occurred while the number of qualified student applicants
remained constant, suggesting that the change was rooted in better
self-selection rather than any changes in the adjudication process.

12. (SBU) The outreach initiative also helped shape a better quality
applicant pool for other visa categories. For example, our outreach
to students attracted more qualified exchange applicants: some 500
qualified exchange students applied for visas in 2009, compared to
only 169 in 2008. Similarly, while the total number of regular visa
applicants (tourist/business) remained steady, the number of
qualified applicants increased by 70 percent, from 1,901 approved
applicants in 2007 to 3,201 in 2009. During the same period, the
number of unqualified applications was reduced by 43 percent, from
4,503 in 2007 to 2,340 in 2009. While it is harder to attribute
this solely to outreach, since B visa adjudications are more
subjective, there is little doubt that the quality of the visa
applicant pool in Mongolia has improved. Overall, the Consular
outreach program reduced the number of disappointed consular
applicants by 50 percent, resulting in 4,000 fewer refused
applicants; at the same time, it increased by 50 percent the number
of individuals who could legitimately travel to the US by
approximately 50 percent, resulting in 1,500 more approved visas.

13. (SBU) Our second goal was to raise awareness about legal
immigration channels and opportunities for working in the United
States. Our efforts benefitted from very broad media coverage,
ensuring that the public became well aware of the DV program. While

we do not have access to the total number of Mongolian DV entries,
we increased visits to the Embassy's web page on the "Green Card
Lottery" by almost 400 percent from 2008 to 2009. Other than the
Embassy's homepage, the Green Card Lottery page was the most visited
page throughout the application period.

14. (SBU) Our third goal was to reduce visa fraud and abuse. While
hard to quantify, we believe that fraud levels have been
significantly reduced since 2007. Even though we conducted 43
percent more fraud investigations, the total number of confirmed
cases of fraud was actually reduced: in 2007, we identified fraud in
140 of 317 fraud investigations; by contrast, in 2009 we identified
fraud in 116 of 453 fraud investigations. We also reduced the
number of applicants found ineligible due to fraud, with the number
declining from 109 in 2007 to 33 in 2009. These decreases occurred
despite the creation of an in-house Fraud Prevention Unit and
improved fraud screening. Similarly, our Surveillance Detection
Team reported less activity by visa brokers in and around the
Embassy grounds. While inexact, these figures clearly support our
belief that that visa fraud in Mongolia has declined.

Lessons Learned

15. (SBU) COMMENT: The Mongolia visa experience points to at least
three main lessons learned that may be of interest to other posts
facing a similar situation:

16. First, identify specific goals early and then stay on message:
We identified specific and concrete goals for our outreach and then
directed our efforts towards achieving those goals. The goals
determined the target audience as well as specific outreach efforts.
Even in a country with a small population such as Mongolia, it was
hard to reach our intended audience. Most notably, it required
repeating the same few points over and over again for many different
audiences and in a variety of settings, thus ensuring the basic
message eventually broke through. Consular officials delivered more
than 20 speeches to several thousand students representing all major
universities in Mongolia. We also gave countless TV, radio and
print interviews; organized advertising, both paid and unpaid;
distributed press releases; and revised our website to ensure that
it also advanced our key objectives. In each case, the message
directly promoted the three over-arching goals that had been set at
the outset. By identifying our goals early and focusing our efforts
towards those goals, we ensured that a consistent message was
delivered to many audiences.

17. (SBU) Second, present the same basic message in a variety of
ways: While it is important to stay on message, we found that we
had to repackage our stories or speeches to ensure continued
coverage among an expanded audience. For example, when a television
program requested comment on a Mongolian student who won a
scholarship to the U.S. and was issued a visa, we used the
opportunity to both congratulate the student while also highlighting
key student visa requirements. Efforts like this were useful in
reaching a different segment of the Mongolian population.
In-country travel also proved very effective. While each trip was
keyed to a speech or outreach event and received blanket coverage in
the region, we also used the travel to reiterate our core message.
For example, after one trip to a remote region we worked with the
media to formulate a human interest story about how the American
consul traveled to the region to discuss the pressing issue of
student visa requirements. The story thus reflected and re-enforced
our core message while doing it with a new twist.

18. (SBU) Third, be proactive: While working closely with the
Public Affairs Section, it was also important for the Consular
section to look for ways to be proactive. We found it useful to
identify our own ideas and outreach opportunities and then work with
Public Affairs to develop and refine them. For example, some of our
most successful efforts such as television commercials, the "Ask the
Consul" column and exchange visa brochures were initiated from
within the Consular section. While PAS was critical in terms of
implementation, the Consular section made an essential contribution
by first voicing the idea and then suggesting possible partners.
For its part, PAS was especially helpful in identifying key press
contacts, reworking consular materials into a press friendly format,
and working with regional media.


19. (SBU) A sustained outreach effort requires a significant
commitment of time and resources. However, in the case of Mongolia,
this was an investment that paid off. As a result, we shaped an

improved applicant pool while highlighting legal immigration
mechanisms and reducing visa fraud. Previously, our refusal rate
was a source of friction and tension in the bilateral relationship,
leading to negative Mongolian perceptions about the United States.
While we cannot change visa standards, we can and did change the
impact of those necessarily strict standards in terms of how they
are perceived and understood by the Mongolian public. The Mongolian
government has noted and expressed appreciation for our efforts,
most notably during a recent meeting with the Ambassador when a
senior advisor to the Prime Minister specifically thanked the
Embassy for the improvements that he himself had witnessed over
time. From our perspective, the outreach effort was a notable
success, one that we intend to continue into 2010 and beyond. End