Conflict in Syria and unrest in the Middle East have created a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions. The “total persons of concern” count recently surpassed 4.8 million individuals, and European countries have shouldered the majority of the burden of refugee relocation. Accordingly, this September, the Obama administration announced plans to drastically increase the number of refugees accepted by the United States from about 13,000 in fiscal year 2016 to 110,000 in fiscal year 2017.
As Congress weighs the humanitarian merits of opening the doors of the United States for refugee asylum against the safety of American citizens, the process for refugee entry into the country remains lengthy and data-intensive. The application begins with a United Nations referral and the collection of identifying documents. An applicant file is created and manual security checks are made against external data sources to search for anomalies in the information. Through the vetting of the individual and until the final in-person interview, document data is constantly re-reviewed to verify consistency of information provided and to search for any signs falsification. According to the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Admissions Department, the average processing time for a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHR) referral to be placed in the United States is 18-24 months.
With a new administration incoming, however, the fragile dynamics of refugee and immigration intake will shift for the United States. One goal of the Trump administration’s “First 100 Days” is to suspend the program for refugee admittance into the US from war-torn countries like Syria. In an October speech in Gettysburg, PA, President-elect Donald Trump stated, “All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered extreme vetting.” Naturally, this presents new challenges for the Department of State. And with the already rigorous and thorough process for refugee admittance under increased scrutiny, the processing timeline for admission into the United States could extend far beyond the 2-year average.
In order to meet to the conflicting goals of former and future administrations, the Department of State will benefit from considering a holistic Big Data analysis approach to applicant vetting. Looking at the refugee application process from a 10,000-foot view will add an additional layer of security and oversight to the review and admittance process. Moreover, utilizing data analytics to compare application fields (like known foreign entities) to external intelligence data sources and the pool of historic applications will provide a valuable tool for red flag detection.
I joined the Ephesoft team in October 2016. With my background in document capture and content management, the progression to advanced document imaging and data analytics was a natural step. And I can’t imagine a more relevant and meaningful application of emergent technology in the Federal Government than refugee application review. As a Big Data analytics tool, Ephesoft Insight can help streamline and secure applicant vetting through comprehensive and historic data analysis of all document content collected throughout the process. Moreover, the ability to extract unstructured data within the various application files combined with relational and cluster analysis algorithms will allow reviewers to uncover repeated or out-of-place language (like in a section providing a reason for missing identifying documents).
When viral photos of distressed and dirty refugee children flood media outlets, the pathos of the images toss political impartiality out the window. However, utilizing data analytics as a tool for assessment will allow for impartiality and expedience in decision making. The use case for data analytics in any large-scale application review process is obvious, and the potential benefit of utilizing Ephesoft Universe for Big Data analysis within the refugee vetting and admission process to the United States is clear.