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Paper chase
Document fraud in the immigration process


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Paper chase
Document fraud in the immigration process


3 Preface

4 Executive summary

6 Chapter 1: The global boom in migration

Why people want to move
The debate intensifies
Migration: not always a good thing?

11 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

22 Conclusions

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© 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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Document fraud in the immigration process


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

© The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007 3

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Document fraud in the immigration process

Executive summary

The steadily increasing propensity of people to by the Economist Intelligence Unit and was
migrate from one part of the world to another is sponsored by IntegraScreen. The key findings
seen as a necessary and desirable trend. At the include:
same time, however, it is a thorny and emotive
problem. The developed world is set to witness an • Labour mobility is a global and increasingly
influx of over 100m people between 2005 and widespread trend. The volume of
2050. Ageing populations and skills shortages international migration is likely to remain high
create a demand for workers that the developing over the next few decades. People will
world can supply. But it is not just people from continue to want to move for several reasons-
developing countries who are migrating; global including wage gaps and the desire to re-unite
mobility is a trend seen in all countries and at all with family already abroad. But the issue is
skill levels. The challenge of smoothing politically sensitive, and the debate over the
immigration procedures for qualified migrants pros and cons of immigration in host countries
while keeping the doors closed to less desirable is likely to intensify.
entrants means many governments have been
forced to put immigration and border protection at • Governments see the economic benefit of
the top of their agendas. allowing inwards migration. Skilled labour is
To cope with these pressures, governments are becoming increasingly mobile, and with skills
bolstering their immigration-screening practices. shortages and slow population growth in the
Measures include capturing biometric data, developed world, governments recognise the
adopting objective points-based screening systems, importance of allowing free flows of labour.
extending their networks into source-country Although incentives to let in migrants from the
institutions, and international border developing world are therefore rising, there is
collaboration. However, these efforts are directly little international consensus on how
threatened by the proliferation of fraudulent migration should be managed.
documentation. To take one example, in the fiscal
year 2005, US Customs and Border Protection • The demand for fake documents is growing.
apprehended 84,000 individuals entering the US The need for particular skills is prompting
with fraudulent documentation. Despite the scale of governments to implement more “objective”
the problem, there are no standardised systems to grade potential immigrants. Points-
international procedures for document verification. based or similar systems—whereby immigrants
Paper chase: Document fraud in the immigration are prioritised according to education and skill
process examines the rising trend of global levels, amongst other factors—seem likely to
migration, the extent of the challenge posed by become more popular. In turn, however, this
fake documentation in policing this migration, will increase the incentive to forge documents
and the merits of establishing international supporting educational or skill-level claims.
procedures for controlling migration and verifying The proliferation of fake academic certificates
documents. The report was researched and written is a particular problem.

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• The risks posed by fraudulent documents are and the absence of international systems to
increasingly serious. Companies may fret screen supporting documentation mean some
about migrant employees providing bogus applications based on fraudulent claims will slip
references, but recent terrorist attacks have through the net.
illustrated the danger to national security
posed by the spread of fraudulent documents. • Immigration controls are being deepened.
Criminals and terrorists are more likely to use The response of many host countries to these
fake papers (or identities stolen in toto) in an challenges has been to “deepen” their systems
application for a genuine visa or passport than and to try to institute more checks in a
to go to the trouble of forging the latter migrant's country of origin. But a large number
themselves. Few immigration authorities have of visa applications will be based on fraudulent
standardised procedures to verify supporting documentation. Screening this is a hugely
documentation. time- and labour-intensive process, and one
that governments seem ill-equipped to handle
• The forged-documents industry links directly at the moment.
to people-smuggling and organised crime.
The false-document industry is not simply a • Technology on its own cannot solve the
novelty-degree business. Those who produce problem. A greater reliance on technology,
forged identity documentation are frequently such as the use of biometric information in
part of a global criminal fraternity of people passports and visas, is becoming common,
smugglers and traffickers whose victims are making conventional travel documents harder
some of the world's most vulnerable people. to forge. But such technology can only fix a
particular identity, not prove whether the
• Border controls are strained when balancing identity itself is valid or based on fraudulent
vigilance with volume. Increasing migrant documentation. Background checks on
numbers have put a great strain on immigration supporting documents are becoming
screening systems, which must cope with an increasingly important, although there are
overwhelming number of applicants and variety currently few global mechanisms for
of documentation. The monotony of the work performing such checks.

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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. take over 1.3m new migrants a year. But nearly 1m
Globalisation, growing trade integration and will go to Europe each year too, according to the
better transportation have facilitated the UN.
movement of people across the world in Current data from the OECD also suggest
recent decades, and large flows of people are likely acceleration in immigration in recent years.
to continue. The UN’s World Population Prospects: According to International Migration Outlook
The 2006 Revision reports that the net number of (2006 edition)2, the UK saw its inflow of migrants
migrants to developed countries is set to grow by climb from 228,000 in 1995 to 379,300 in 2000
up to 103m between 2005 and 2050, or by 2.2m and then to 494,100 in 2004. North America
people annually, rising to 2.3m a year after 2010. recorded an inflow of almost 1.07m permanent
Most of these migrants will be coming from Asia— settlers in 2000, growing to 1.18m in 2004. In
over 1m a year, with rather smaller numbers from addition, 1.25m temporary migrants entered the
Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa. The US in 2000, and their numbers increased to a little
big draw—as ever—is North America, which will below 1.3m in 2004. As the OECD data make clear,

Migration flows
('000 people, annual averages)
1990 1990-2
2000 2000-2
2010 2010-2
2020 2020-2
2030 2030-2
2040 2040-2
More developed regions 1,530 2,493 2,902 2,268 2,269 2,272 2,272
Less developed regions -1,530 -2,493 -2,902 -2,268 -2,269 -2,272 -2,272
Least developed countries -788 -37 -29 -277 -373 -375 -375
Other less developed countries -742 -2,456 -2,873 -1,991 -1,896 -1,897 -1,897
Africa -267 -310 -416 -377 -395 -393 -393
Asia -451 -1,340 -1,311 -1,210 -1,221 -1,222 -1,222
Europe 441 1,051 1,271 799 805 808 808
Latin America and the Caribbean -781 -775 -1,108 -616 -590 -595 -595
Northern America 972 1,277 1,453 1,305 1,300 1,300 1,300
Oceania 86 96 111 99 101 102 102
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 http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/wpp2006/wpp2006.htm
2 Available at http://www.oecd.org/document/2/0,3343,en_2825_494553_38060354_1_1_1_1,00.html

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Population inflows for selected OECD countries ('000 people)

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Inflow data based on population registers:
Germany 648.8 685.3 658.3 601.8 602.2
Japan 345.8 351.2 343.8 373.9 372.0
Netherlands 91.4 94.5 86.6 73.6 65.1
Spain 330.9 394.0 443.1 429.5 645.8
Inflow data based on residence permits or on other sources:
Permanent inflows 114.6 138.3 119.8 130.2 150.7
Temporary inflows 224.0 245.1 340.2 244.7 261.6
Permanent inflows 227.3 250.5 229.1 221.4 235.8
Temporary inflows 262.9 283.7 263.5 244.7 245.7
France 93.0 107.6 124.8 135.1 140.1
Italy 271.5 232.8 388.1 Unavail 319.3
South Korea 185.4 172.5 170.9 178.3 188.8
Turkey 168.1 161.2 157.6 152.2 155.5
UK 379.3 373.3 418.2 406.8 494.1
Permanent inflows 849.8 1,064.3 1,063.7 705.8 946.1
Temporary inflows 1,249.4 1,375.1 1,282.6 1,233.4 1,299.3
EU + Norway and Switzerland (as of 2004, 2,232.3 2,471.5 2,694.1 2,478.9 2,814.5
excluding Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,
Malta and Slovenia)
North America (permanent) 1,077.2 1,314.8 1,292.8 927.2 1,182.0
Source: OECD, International Migration Outlook, 2006 edition

this is not an issue that just affects the affluent countries. The implication is that this is not just a
countries of North America and Western Europe. Of problem of data consistency—but that nobody
the other OECD members, South Korea took close really knows what is going on.
to 190,000 migrants in 2004 and Turkey over
155,000. Why people want to move
The OECD is careful to point out that methods There are other reasons to believe that the UN’s
for collecting immigration data vary, as do the forecast of 2.3m migrants a year until 2050 may be
categories of individual that they cover (for erring on the low side. In fact, annual global
instance, they may or may not include asylum migration exceeded this level in the 1990s, and is
seekers). But, even so, it is interesting to note the likely to do so again in the first decade of this
extremely large discrepancy between UN and OECD millennium. The reasons behind this growth are
data regarding past immigration into EU not hard to identify. The World Bank identifies

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three push-pull factors: Canada has over the past decade welcomed
• the wage gap between developing and educated migrants with flexible skills, and as a
developed nations; result has seen its stock of foreign-born residents
• existing migrant populations in developed climb from 4.8m, or 16.6% of the total population
nations pushing to re-unite with family and in 1995, to 5.7m or 18.0% of the total in 2004.5
friends (the UN estimates that, in 2005, 3% of
the global population was foreign born, The debate intensifies
compared to 2.2% in 1980);3 Immigration is already subject to many controls
• ageing populations and slowing growth of across the world. Such controls seem more likely
indigenous workforces in developed countries. to be extended than reduced in coming years.
But this is not just poor labourers in search of a There are a variety of reasons for this, both social
crust. “What is clear is that people are moving and economic. There seems to be a growing belief
across the globe at all skill levels—there is mobility in the populations of many countries that they are
not just of people of lower skill levels but also of “full up” and unable to accommodate further large
the highly skilled and the highly educated,” says numbers of migrants; domestic political pressures
Deborah Meyers, a senior policy analyst at the to put the brakes on immigration are therefore
Migration Policy Institute, a US-based think-tank. increasing. At the same time, there is a more
And host countries may increasingly want migrant reasoned debate going on about the overall
workers—if their skills match the country’s needs. benefits and risks of immigration. Is the arrival of
Securing the Border, a March 2007 strategy large numbers of migrant workers simply
paper from the UK Home Office,4 acknowledges displacing existing populations? Or is the flow of
that the country’s economy continues to benefit skilled labour from the developing to developed
from globalisation, and that “continued growth world irreversibly damaging the former’s
has come from international trade and prospects?
investment, and from the ability of British There are many unanswered but important
business to fill gaps in the labour market that questions, and some developed countries find it
cannot be filled from our own workforce. difficult to discuss them, let alone answer them.
Engineers, teachers and other experts from abroad The issue is so highly political that it has often
fill these gaps, making important contributions to been kept off the agenda for public policy debate.
the UK through tax and revenue, as well as Few would disagree with Deborah Meyers’ view
developing our links with foreign countries.” that this “is a phenomenon that is beyond the
International students not only bring revenue control of any single government. It is a
in terms of tuition fees, but also in terms of phenomenon that needs to be managed.” But
spending on goods and services. Similar benefits getting a multilateral accord on migration flows
accrue to the US, which is the world’s premier looks difficult—movement of people, unlike trade
destination for international students. For its part, 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 http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/migration/UN_Migrant_Stock_Documentation_2005.pdf
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. convention, for example, and none of these are

The current legal framework is feeble. Existing major destination countries for migrants.) The
international law provides a basic, but imperfect, weak institutional and legal framework means that
structure for immigration controls. Whilst states any shift to a more rigorous multilateral regime
have the broad authority to regulate the flow of will be difficult.
nationals across their borders, this authority is As importantly, different countries have wildly
limited by the rights given to individuals by different needs and problems in immigration
international law. There are international control. This is a problem—and an opportunity—
conventions regarding the status of refugees, that countries are going to have to manage on
migrant worker rights and people trafficking, their own. Host countries have responded to the
amongst others. But some of these conventions current inconsistencies with different regimes. As
have been ratified by only a few states. (Only 27 the UN’s Global Commission on International
states have signed up to the migrant workers’ Migration (GCIM)6 pointed out, in Asia many

Migration: not always a good thing?

Most developed-country leaders acknowledge that But the effects of immigration are more
migration is inevitable—indeed vital—to keep their complex than a politician can easily admit. Studies
economies humming. Tony Blair, then prime by academics such as Professor John Salt, of the
minister of the UK, in a foreword to a February Migration Research Unit at University College
2005 five-year strategy paper entitled Controlling London, point out that mass immigration implies
our borders: Making migration work for Britain7 profound changes to the social infrastructure of a
noted: “Managed migration is not just good for this country—for example, to the skills levels of the
country. It is essential for our continued existing population, to the demand for housing in
prosperity.” cities and so on.8 The conclusions of such studies
According to Mr Blair, visitors from outside the can be unwelcome—particularly if they imply that
EU spent over £6bn (US$12bn) annually in the UK, immigration reduces incentives for the indigenous
and those from within the EU billions more; population to obtain certain skills, or if it is
overseas students spent a further £2.7bn on goods depressing local wages.
and services and £2.3bn on tuition fees. He added Such issues cannot be overlooked, particularly
that the country’s vital public services depended if they are connected to wider anti-globalisation
upon skilled staff from overseas: foreign-born protests. The perception that immigration serves to
nurses and doctors for the expanding National widen social inequalities (through reducing the
Health Service, for example, or the expertise of IT cost of services for the rich, whilst driving down
and finance professionals from India, the US and wages for manual labour) is likely to be particularly
the EU to maintain London as one of the world’s persistent.
foremost financial centres.

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. http://www.archive2.official-
8 Migration Research Unit, University College London (2007). http://www.geog.ucl.ac.uk/mru/publications.htm

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migrants move on the basis of temporary labour to three-quarters of illegal entry to the UK—such
contracts, whilst in parts of the Americas and as human trafficking and people smuggling—is
Africa, migration is largely irregular. Traditional facilitated by organised crime (see Chapter 2). But
destination countries such as New Zealand, it also recognises another growing headache.
Australia, Canada and the US continue to accept “False documents submitted in support of
migrants for permanent settlement and applications are a huge problem when
citizenship, adds the report, while nations in the determining if someone should come to the UK; in
Middle East tend to permit migrants within their some countries fraudulent documents are
borders only for fixed periods. endemic,” the Home Office's strategy paper notes.
But none of these regimes are perfect, and Anecdotal evidence from the visa offices of other
immigrants remain desperate to get in. This has attractive destination-countries such as the US
the unfortunate effect of encouraging a resort to and Australia seems to support the opinion of the
criminality. The UK Home Office estimates that up UK authorities.

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Chapter 2: The scale and implications of

document fraud
As host countries tighten up immigration requirements and introduce more objective systems for vetting
immigrants, there will be a greater emphasis on documentation to prove workers’ skills and status. One
side-effect of this is a greater demand for fake documents from those without the necessary skills or
connections to gain entrance to the destination country of their choice. The scale of the problem is
potentially overwhelming for immigration authorities, yet given the implications for national security (and
the links to organised crime) governments cannot afford to get it wrong.

mmigration is politically sensitive, and as skilled migrants are kept out (although this may
human mobility has increased, so too has backfire). Targeted, perhaps points-based
the complexity of the legal and schemes such as that long used in Australia also
administrative processes by which it is appear to offer some relief to immigration
monitored and controlled. In recent years, the link agencies, if they allow current subjective schemes
between migration and security has become an for issuing visas—open often to challenge, or
issue of even greater concern—particularly with abuse—to be replaced by a more “objective”
the perceived greater risk of terrorism. Yet the approach.
public and the state’s growing fearfulness of But there is a problem with the objective,
international migration has made the corporate possibly points-based approach. It puts a premium
sector restive. Humans, skilled and unskilled, are on the veracity of the supporting documentation
not being allowed to move as freely across most needed for a visa—particularly those documents
borders as are services, capital and information. relating to educational qualifications or work
For many businesses, the inability to recruit at history. Meanwhile, migrants moving en famille
home the best skilled or unskilled workers must obtain suitable documents proving their
threatens their competitive edge, and they may relationships, as entry is often restricted to a
decide to relocate operations to countries that worker’s immediate family members. And while
provide easier access to the required skills. Others host countries’ systems may get better and better
may remain at home, but turn a blind eye to the at detecting false passports, checks on supporting
authenticity or thoroughness of the documents, although increasing, are still
documentation that permits their workers to enter inadequate given the increasing flow of migrants
their countries. Some may not even realise that worldwide—and the increasing dangers of getting
their workers’ papers are not in order. it wrong.
Closer matching of immigrants’ skills with the
needs of the host economy should help maximise The spread of fake academic
the economic benefits of labour migration, and documents
many countries have decided to adopt increasingly The legitimacy of employment documentation,
selective immigration controls as a result. particularly that purporting to prove academic
Restricted inflows may also help reduce the qualifications, is particularly difficult to ascertain.
political backlash against immigration, if lower- Counterfeit documentation can come in different

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Points-based immigration systems

Australia sponsorship require certified copies of made on such documents.
Various categories for workers, students birth certificates or family registers, other
and other migrants, each with different criteria require “documentary evidence” UK
requirements. For general skilled labour and are subject to unspecified background Points-based Highly Skilled Migrant Pro-
visas, applicants must be under 45 years checks. gramme (HSMP) in place since 2002.
old, have suitable English ability and post- Beginning 2008, new comprehensive
Canada points-based system to be introduced,
secondary education (in most cases).
Various categories for workers, students replacing more than 80 types of entry con-
Skills must fit those on lists of certain
and other migrants, each with different dition with five tiers: “highly skilled”,
requirements. Points-based system for “skilled”, “low-skilled”, students, and
Points are scored against following
skilled workers (in occupations as defined temporary (or non-economic) migrants.
criteria: skill, age, English ability, work
on the Canadian National Occupational Points are scored against following
experience and qualifications in Australian
Classification list), based on six selection criteria: qualifications, previous earnings,
institutions. Other factors, such as having
criteria: education, ability in English or prior experience as a student or employee,
an occupation in demand or making capital
French, experience, age, sponsorship by age and participation in an MBA scheme.
investments in Australia (buying
employer in Canada and “adaptability” For example, for the new HSMP
government bonds, for example) earn
(that is, whether applicant has relatives in requirements, applicants must score 75
bonus points. (Certain “skill-matching”
Canada or previous work or study experi- points (plus have suitable English
visas, for applications in certain
ence there). Migrants must also have suffi- language skills) for acceptance, where a
occupations nominated by a state or
cient funds to maintain themselves and PhD scores 50 points, a Masters degree 35
territory government or employer, are not
their families. and a Bachelor’s degree 30.
points-tested.) Pass marks for points-
The pass mark for skilled workers and The guidance states: “Points will only
based applications vary but are around 120
professionals is 67 points; of which be awarded where specified evidence is
points for independent (non-sponsored)
education provides up to 25, language provided to show that you have been
visas. Point scores of between 40 and 60
ability up to 24, experience up to 21 and awarded the relevant academic or
are awarded for different occupations, with
other criteria up to 10 each. professional qualification from an
20 points available for English fluency and
Valid supporting documentation for accredited institution.” Such qualifications
10-15 for having completed a
applications includes “education need approval from relevant UK bodies to
postgraduate course at an Australian
documents or other certificates attesting qualify as evidence. With regard to the age
institution. Sponsorship by a relative who
to the educational level, employment requirement, points are granted only to
is already an Australian permanent
letters confirming work experience, those under 32; an original birth
resident or citizen earns 15 points.
language test results, police certificates, certificate or driving licence is required as
(Various revisions were introduced on
birth and marriage certificates, and bank evidence. For the MBA provision, points
September 1st 2007.)
statements confirming the applicant’s are only awarded to graduates from a list
Age requirement and relative
funds”. No description is given of checks of recognised institutions.

Sources: Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship website, www.immi.gov.au; General Skilled Migration guidance booklet, available at
http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms/booklets/1119.pdf; Citizenship and Immigration Canada website, http://www.cic.gc.ca; Regulatory Impact Assessment—A Points-Based System: Making Migration Work
for Britain, available at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/ria-making-migration-work-070306?view=Binary;UK Border & Immigration Agency, Highly Skilled Migrant Programme Guidance for
Applicants, available at http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/6353/11406/49552/hsmp1guidance

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forms: fake examination results, a degree from a as, or similar to, real schools, he adds. For
fake school, or even a fake degree from a real example, LaSalle University run out of Louisiana is
school (see box, below). fake (the real LaSalle University is in
John Bear, a US-based expert on “diploma Pennsylvania), and Stamford University is fake
mills”, recounts buying a medical degree from (but Stanford University isn’t).
Harvard University for US$50 from a counterfeit-
degree seller. “There are a great many of these. National security implications
Just type ‘counterfeit diploma’ into a Google The potential dangers of accepting fake
search box,” he says. “This accounts for a lot of the documents as valid go beyond employing
immigration fraud, I believe. Someone says they unqualified staff (although in the medical
have an Oxford University MBA, and shows a very profession this itself can be life-threatening) or
realistic-looking diploma, and people are fooled.” denying job opportunities to local-born workers.
So what can immigration authorities do? With the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001
Curtailing the entry of overseas students, who in New York and Washington, March 11th 2004 in
often use their resident status to seek employment Madrid, July 7th 2005 in London, and June 30th
once their academic career ends, is not really an 2007 at Glasgow airport, securing borders against
option. Foreign students are a lucrative source of the ingress of potential terrorists has become the
fees for universities. Jacques Hallak and Muriel highest priority of the most popular migrant-
Poisson in their 2005 paper titled Academic fraud destination countries. Notwithstanding the fact
and quality assurance: facing the challenge of that in at least one of these instances (London)
internationalisation of higher education9, written the bombers in question were local-born, the need
for UNESCO’s International Institute for to track the movement of suspected terrorists
Educational Planning, note that foreign across borders and to pinpoint their identities has
undergraduates constitute less than 10% of the become pressing.
total student population in UK universities, but Faking complicated identity documents such as
contribute more to their financing than do British passports and ID cards has always been a costly
and EU students combined. In Australia, 100,000 operation; consequently experts consider it
overseas students are estimated to contribute unlikely that this kind of fake documentation will
A$2.5bn (US$2bn) annually, or up to two-fifths of spread rapidly. There is a greater danger that
the budgets of some universities. would-be terrorists will use fradulent documents
Immigration authorities do not have many in order to obtain a passport, entry visa or other
options, as the current situation stands. “Because form of identification. The growing problem of
of the existence of hundreds of fake schools, plus “identity theft” means that supporting documents
all the counterfeiters, it is a very difficult and time- may in fact refer to a real person—just not the one
consuming process for immigration authorities to using them. Currently, few government
check up on people, so I think many of them don’t immigration services have standardised
do it,” notes Mr Bear. It doesn't help that the procedures in place to check supporting
counterfeit schools sometimes use names the same documentation. Even if the risk of fake visas or ID

9 Available at http://www.unesco.org/iiep/eng/research/highered/polforum/Papers/Day2/HallakPoisson.pdf

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A scam for all seasons

Are the people who “subscribe” to fake biggest problems of a diploma mill were reputable colleges and institutions such as
degree/diploma mills themselves victims the cost of advertising, the cost of Harvard and Yale”. There are numerous
of an academic abuse, or are they know- postage, and the need for anonymity or a websites from which to choose, some with
ingly warping academic rules? “This is a low profile. Enter the Internet. “[It] is names that say blatantly what their
very important question, and no one their fondest dream come true,” notes Mr business is all about:
knows,” says John Bear, a US-based Bear. “It easily solves all three problems www.fakedegrees.com,
expert on diploma mills. “When people are for them. And as long as people want their www.cheathouse.com,
caught, they always say that they were product, they will grow and thrive.” www.diplomasforless.com, www.Degrees-
fooled…but my belief is that most people His opinion is echoed by Jacques Hallak R-Us.com—the list is long.
know what they are doing, and hope to and Muriel Poisson in their 2005 paper Fake-degree mills are prolific because
fool others.” titled Academic fraud and quality they make money, and lots of it, for the
However, Mr Bear adds that some very assurance: facing the challenge of people who operate them. The one-man-
clever diploma mills also have fake internationalisation of higher education,11 operation of yesteryear has
accreditation (there are over 200 fake written for UNESCO’s International metamorphosed into a multimillion-dollar
accrediting agencies), and that reassures Institute for Educational Planning. global business in fake degrees. According
people who have read that they should be Extensive developments in information- to Mr Bear, when Columbia State
careful and only deal with accredited communication technology in recent University was investigated in the 1990s,
schools. They don’t know that there are years, they argue, have immensely evidence of US$72m in sales was found; in
also fake accreditors. widened the scope for fraud in academia, the case of LaSalle University in Louisiana,
Mr Bear, who has written several books at the same introducing innovative there was evidence of making US$35m in
on distance learning as well as one titled methods of malpractice. four years; and in the case of the University
Degree mills: the billion-dollar industry that “The Internet is now arguably the Degree Program, run out of Romania and
has sold more than a million fake degrees10, leading vehicle for fraudulent [academic] Israel, the FBI estimated that more than
believes that the incidence of practices”, they write, and among other US$500m had been raked in from selling
degree/diploma mills is likely to keep things has facilitated the practice of 500,000 degrees worldwide.
growing. Not too long ago, the three selling fake degrees “sometimes even from

documents is relatively low, there are risks if claiming to be a Syrian army expert-was notified
documents used to obtain these are themselves of by “James Monroe University”, a degree mill, that
dubious provenance. it would award him three bogus degrees in
To take one example, a CNN report on diploma advanced engineering and chemistry for a little
mills and terrorism that aired on December 15th over US$1,000.
2005 showed how a fake advanced degree could Recognising the severity of the situation, in
help to get a coveted H-1B visa to work in the US, April 2006 the US Department of Homeland
which terrorists could use to their advantage. The Security (DHS) established special task forces to
report cited a US Secret Service operation in which target fraud involving the manufacturing, sale and
an agent calling himself Mohammed Syed-and use of counterfeit identity documents in 10 of

10 with Allen Ezell; Prometheus Books, 2005, ISBN: 1-59102-238-X

11 Op cit

14 © The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007

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America’s largest cities, to complement the efforts smuggling and trafficking has a commercial value
of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of about US$10bn per year. In pursuit of these
officers. (ICE was established in March 2003 as the profits, the now sophisticated industry has seen a
largest investigative arm of the DHS.) The scheme growing trend towards collaboration between
was expanded to 17 cities in April 2007. ICE also organised crime syndicates. In addition, a highly
has a forensic document laboratory which provides developed sub-economy of agents or facilitators
training and technical assistance to law- who provide legal, financial, IT and
enforcement bodies in the detection of fraudulent communications expertise, corrupt access,
documents. But such efforts, considering the production facilities and forged documents has
international scope and sheer volume of emerged. With computers and the Internet as their
immigration documents that require screening, primary tools, these criminals are able to provide
can only act as a palliative rather than a cure. smugglers with state-of-the-art forgeries.
In the US, the Castorena Family Organisation
Links to organised crime (CFO) is a large-scale crime syndicate that
Aside from the national-security implications, operates from Mexico with local hubs in ten US
document forgery is also a form of organised crime cities. It specialises in forged documents such as
frequently associated with the illegal trade of passports, birth certificates, work permits,
smuggling and trafficking human beings. Amnesty marriage certificates and driving licenses. When
International estimates that 4m people are US authorities raided CFO facilities in Los Angeles
smuggled or trafficked across international in the late 1990s, they seized documents with a
borders each year.12 Forged documents often play street value of US$20m.
a role in one stage of the process. The Global Commission on International
The distinction between smuggling and Migration (GCIM) advocates that source-countries
trafficking is whether or not the individual has take stronger action in prosecuting those who
chosen to embark on the journey. Tragically, this recruit or harbour illegal migrants as well as
distinction is often immaterial; regardless of how confiscating their assets. It also calls for
the journey starts, it often ends in exploitation governments to take action against the
and suffering for the victims. Crime rings trap their questionable recruitment agencies with shady
charges with insurmountable debts, violence and dealings in forged visas. There have been some
intimidation to force them into working in positive steps and, more generally, the developing
dangerous, unregulated conditions or within the world is waking up to its human-rights
sex industry. One well-known horror story is the responsibilities. For example, Pakistan’s Federal
death of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers who drowned in Investigation Agency has launched a major
February 2004 after being abandoned by their country-wide offensive against people-smuggling
gang-masters on UK mudflats as the tide rushed in rings and took action against 115 illegal overseas-
around them. They were being paid just US$2 for employment bureaus between 2003 and 2005.13
nine hours’ hard labour. The European Commission is establishing a
Amnesty International estimates that people- European image-archiving system for false and

12 Available at http://www.amnesty.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/77198/People_smuggling.pdf
13 Data available at http://www.fia.gov.pk/oep.htm

© The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007 15

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authentic documents (FADO) to combat illegal genuine documents, and information on forgery
immigration and organised crime. FADO aims to and security techniques.14 While this will help in
facilitate the fast and simple exchange between determining fraudulent documentation, it will not
member states of information concerning genuine identify or enable the sharing of information
and false documents. The FADO database will about specific individuals.
contain images of false and forged documents,

14 http://ec.europa.eu/justice_home/fsj/freetravel/documents/wai/fsj_freetravel_documents_en.htm

16 © The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007

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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 seven hours. This means an average of about two
screening potential immigrants is vast. minutes per application, during which the
Developed countries’ consulates in popular consular officer has to review documents, ask
migrant source towns may process questions in Spanish, determine whether the
thousands of visa applications a week-of which a applicant qualifies for a non-immigrant visa, and
substantial number will be rejected. The UK alone fill out the requisite paperwork.
received almost 2.75m visa applications in The high volume of interviews means that a
2006/07, of which 81% were accepted.15 consular officer hears the same stories repeated
As well as issuing visas, receiving countries for frequently, and the “desensitising monotony” of
migrants have to check that their passports and this endless flood of applications is not conducive
supporting documentation are correct at the point to quality screening, says the CIS. It adds that for
of entry-no mean feat, if one considers the number the applicant using fraudulent documentation to
of people coming through airports and ports. The enter a country, it is easier to mislead a tired
UK Home Office notes that in 2006 more than consular officer than to take the hazardous—and
4,000 forged or counterfeit documents were decidedly more expensive—alternative of an
detected at UK ports; many more presumably illegal border-crossing facilitated by people
slipped through the net.16 smugglers. This story should perhaps be taken
with a grain of salt since the CIS has a conservative
An increasing workload anti-immigration agenda, but the pressure on
The situation is similarly stressful for US consular officials is confirmed by anecdotal
immigration officials and is highlighted in an evidence and interviews conducted for this paper.
article published by the Center for Immigration Moreover, the US Department of Homeland
Studies (CIS) in the US.17 The CIS reports that the Security admits that on arrival to the US, travellers
US Consulate in Mexico City conducts an present over 8,000 different types of
unrealistically high number of daily interviews of documentation and that this number must be
visa applicants, with each US consular officer limited in order to help officers zero in on the
handling 150-200 applicants in a span of five to 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)

© The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007 17

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Other countries are also coming closer to First, some form of risk-related assessment still
admitting that major changes are needed. The needs to be done within the immigrant’s own
Australian immigration department’s review of its country—both of the applicant’s suitability for a
information-technology (IT) systems in 2006 visa, and of the supporting documentation. This is
recommended a radical multimillion-dollar no easy task in many countries, as one US consular
overhaul of its hardware and software official based in southern China reports. Although
infrastructure, as well as its project-management fake passports are a rarity, efforts to screen other
capability, record-keeping and record- documents in China are hampered by widespread
management. The review was in part prompted by fraud.
two very public embarrassments for the Australian “You can’t trust any [personal] documents in
immigration authorities—the unlawful deportation China”, the official says, explaining that the
of Vivien Alvarez to the Philippines in July 2001, market for supplying fraudulent papers in support
despite her being an Australian citizen, and the of visa applications is vast and growing quickly. On
illegal detention in 2004 of Australian resident one occasion, the official recalls, a visa
Cornelia Rau, falsely thought to be a German over- interviewee who had neglected to bring a birth
stayer. certificate left to “find” the document and
As mentioned, countries seem likely to move returned from a printing shop across the road
increasingly to a points-based system for minutes later, new certificate in hand.
prioritising immigrants. This already exists in However, the fact that the authenticity of
Australia; applicants are given points for documents is widely questioned means there is at
educational and skill levels, amongst other things. least a level playing field, the official claims. The
The UK is phasing in a similar system. But such assumption is made that the document in question
schemes will provide an even greater incentive to is fraudulent unless it is proved to be genuine. But
potential immigrants to forge documents claiming finding the proof is a labour-intensive and time-
high educational status or specific skills—making consuming process. In India alone, the UK visas
the document-verification process yet more authority identified 140 companies set up to
crucial. The consensus is that this process must provide bogus employment references for visa
begin at migrant's countries of origin if it is to be applicants. It also notes that in 2006/07 UK
effective. officials detected over 12,600 fraudulent
documents used to support applications in Lagos
Deepening immigration screening alone.18
Countries increasingly believe that they cannot For those individuals who are not required to
identify all potential undesirable immigrants at obtain a visa before entry, one solution is for a
the point of entry; they seek therefore to “deepen” secondary electronic-checking system to send
the process by carrying out more checks within the passenger lists to the host country before the
immigrant’s own country. This can be done at immigrant gets on the plane—meaning boarding
different levels, but each adds an additional layer can be stopped if some anomaly is picked up. Even
of complexity to the immigration process. when an immigrant is on the plane to the host

18 UKvisas Annual Review 2006/07, op cit

18 © The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007

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country, their details can be further checked-so authenticate immigration applicants’ identity, as
that they can be turned back on arrival. well as to screen travellers. The UK, for example, is
The technology to do this already exists. For 16 rolling out a system to include biometric data in
weeks until February 2007 London’s Heathrow each visa granted. But there are snags in relying
Airport ran a test of a system that uses biometrics on technology of this nature.
for identification, known as miSense, in For a start, “These systems are not yet
conjunction with the UK immigration authorities, compatible and interoperable worldwide,” notes
Cathay Pacific Airways and Emirates. The trial was Thomas Romig, airport manager for information
by most accounts a success. Biometric systems technology (IT) with the Airports Council
have already been tried out at many other airports International, a Geneva-based association of
by immigration control authorities. In some cases, airports. One of the SPT’s tasks is to facilitate this
biometric systems have been implemented in one “harmonisation” so that such systems are rolled
form or the other to verify passenger identity—for out on a long-term basis to allow a passenger
example, in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, travelling between different locations to be
Dubai and Australia. verified at all ports of entry and exit.
Another initiative is SPEED, which is available Can biometrics be deployed in isolation of other
to Hong Kong permanent identity-card holders verification procedures? “No system is foolproof,”
flying frequently between Hong Kong and London. says Mr Romig. “However, some are better than
SPEED was jointly conducted by the Hong Kong others and it can be said that biometrics, although
International Airport, Hong Kong’s Immigration not foolproof, is very robust…The technology
Department and Cathay Pacific Airways from used has been developed to minimise the
January to June 2007. Like miSense, SPEED was possibility of spoofing or fooling the system. It is
run to test the principles of the Simplifying very hard to use another person’s biometric as it
Passenger Travel (SPT) programme, initiated by would mean that the biometric would have to be
the International Air Transport Association. presented to the control point; unless the
As its name suggests, the SPEED model aims to person—or their biometric—is present the
integrate airport, immigration and airline identification will not take place.” He adds that
processes in real time. Passengers who enrol in many biometric verification systems being used
SPEED have superior online check-in and baggage worldwide are fully automated and do not require
handling facilities, immigration control, security manual intervention except in unusual
clearance and aircraft boarding. In addition, they occurrences such as false documentation.
can participate in IRIS, or the Iris Recognition But biometrics has prompted concerns about
Immigration System, developed by the UK privacy issues—and divergent attitudes. One side
government and Sagem, which permits automated warns that using biometrics would enable the
entry clearance. authorities to “police” an individual’s movements
It is expected that the use of biometrics will worldwide. The other side argues that biometrics
greatly assist automated verification. Such would be just another technology that uses an
systems essentially use pattern recognition to individual’s personal details to enable a modern
identify users by authenticating their unique life, for example, using an ATM, a mobile phone,
physiological or behaviourial traits. Increasingly the Internet or a machine-readable passport.
these systems are being introduced to “There may be privacy issues with biometric

© The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007 19

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Document fraud in the immigration process

data being held in databases as this is based on fraudulent documentation.

national legislation,” says Mr Romig, “but from Document verification will also remain
the greater public’s point of view, it has to be imperfect, with volume being the major inhibiting
understood that biometrics will only improve factor. The substantial numbers of visas processed
security and, in some cases, hopefully make life for the major migrant destinations will continue to
easier for people.” Indeed, individuals willing to put their systems under strain; better risk-
register their private details could even turn to assessment systems will mitigate the problem, but
private identification services such as Edentiti, not solve it. Similarly, a harder-headed approach
developed by an Australia-based company of the by receiving countries (for example by refusing to
same name. The product offers 100 points of issue a visa to anyone who has been caught using
identification to an individual based on their bogus documentation in the past) will not stop
associations with other individuals and those desperate for a new life. Various non-
organisations. Both sides have to agree on the governmental initiatives (including in the private
association for it to be considered verified. sector) have been launched to tackle this problem.
At a rather simpler level, identity verification Organisations checking educational
services provided by the private sector are qualifications seem to be the most established.
becoming more common, particularly in the US. The Australian firm IDP, for example, has long
For example, Intelli-Check, based in New York been engaged in checking the educational
state, markets ID-CHECK technology, which qualifications and background of foreign students
according to the company blurb reads, analyses applying for further courses in Australia. In the
and verifies the encoded data in magnetic strips US, the National Student Clearinghouse—a not-
and barcodes on government-issue IDs from about for-profit organisation—has now been verifying
60 jurisdictions in the US and Canada to determine educational qualifications for 13 years. Another
the validity of content and format. But applying Australian firm, VETASSESS, is the only non-
this approach to other supporting documentation domestic organisation authorised to access
may be more difficult: very few university-degree China’s database of validated educational
certificates are barcoded, for example. certificates (although this is said to cover
diplomas more effectively than degree
Databases and background checks certificates). IntegraScreen—the sponsors of this
Official forecasts and back-of-the-envelope report—Global Screening Solutions, L-1 Identity
calculations both suggest that migrant numbers Solutions, Digimarc and LexisNexis are among the
are likely to remain very high for the foreseeable private-sector firms offering document screening
future. Individual countries continue to struggle and identity verification services.
with the implications of this volume for visa Employment history checking is also being
control. Improved national systems and more co- developed, with some of these organisations
ordination between government agencies are involved in on-the-ground research, maintaining
unlikely to solve matters. Although biometric offices in source-countries such as India and China
passports and data can link individuals with an and building up databases on individuals and
identity, they will not on their own prove that the bogus companies set up for the sole purpose of
documentation supporting that identity is valid. supplying fraudulent documents.
So, visas will continue to be issued based on There is already collaboration between such

20 © The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007

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Endorsing degrees in China

China's authorities are worried about the threat The drawback is that CHESICC has only
posed by fake degrees to the reputation of their authorised certain domestic educational bodies
educational institutions. In response, they have and one foreign organisation, VETASSESS (an
established the China Higher-Education Student Australian migration document-verification and
Information and Career Centre (CHESICC) to training firm), to carry out verifications. Other
endorse and verify all secondary-school and governments and businesses would have to go
degree certificates. It has a database that stores through Chinese universities and notaries in order
the student's name, sex, date of birth, to try to check on authenticity, as its database for
college/university, subject studied, course level, degrees (if not diplomas) is widely seen to be
graduation date, ID certificate and graduation inadequate.
photograph, and the serial number of the candi-
date's diploma or certificate.

firms and governments. Although pre-employment outdated. “The document that an organisation
screening has traditionally been the greatest gives you is essentially a copy of their records,”
source of revenue for these companies, there is says Mr Cox. “In a sense it’s like a letter of
evidence to suggest that contracts with introduction, the same concept. But we don’t have
government immigration departments are a to do that now we’ve got the Internet.”
potentially fruitful avenue of growth. Some Edentiti believes that the best way to solve the
countries have reported success with these problem of fraudulent documentation is for
initiatives: the United Arab Emirates, for example, individuals to build up their own identities—
in September 2005 began verifying the initially getting third parties to verify the
educational qualifications of all applicants for documentation supporting their life story. So you
managerial work permits. The UAE’s ministry of might take your degree certificate, get it verified
labour reports that over 180,000 qualifications by a third party, and then post it on your own
have since been screened by a third-party verifier, personal webspace (or on a smart card at home).
and it plans to expand the programme. But such The biometric linking the identity to the
systems are untested on a larger scale, and documentation is a voice print: Edentiti rings the
problems with sharing information between firms individual if access to data is requested, and needs
are likely to impede the establishment of global to get an affirmative voice print to continue.
document-verification systems. Whether such a system of verification can work
Then again, perhaps standard document on a sufficiently large scale is open to question,
verification is not the only answer to the problem. however, while the technology and the
Kevin Cox, founder and chief technology officer of applications remain in their infancy—and are often
Edentiti, a small Australian organisation that is unavailable to those developing-country migrants
still trying to convince others about its approach, most desperate to build new lives abroad.
says that the process of document verification is

© The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007 21

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here are few areas of consensus when it of scale necessary to perfect border screening.
comes to global migration: exactly the Moreover, it would have serious implications for
scale of the issue, whether it injects fresh civil liberties if personal information were tracked
talent into developed economies or in this way.
undermines local labour markets—everyone has a However, setting up organisations that can
strongly held opinion. On one issue there is validate an individual’s personal documentation
agreement, however: global migration requires could be an important step. For example, the body
increased control. Countries need to be able to established in China to verify and register
determine who enters their borders to ensure educational certificates could be replicated in
people with the desired skills or other attributes other countries where fraudulent diplomas are
come in, while those who are unqualified (or who endemic. The next step would be to grant qualified
present a security threat) stay out. access to overseas immigration departments. Or
So what steps can governments take, in order to perhaps migrants would be asked to prove their
know with relative certainty to whom they are identity in their own country before applying for
granting or denying entry? Borders must seem foreign visas.
welcoming to holidaymakers, yet rigorous Destination countries such as the US and those
processes must be in place to vet those who are of the EU can build up databases of valid and false
planning to stay and work. Difficulty in getting documentation to help customs recognise
visas, the unpredictability of entry requirements, forgeries, although the effectiveness of these
and unfriendly customs officers are having a databases in fraud detection still relies on
seriously damaging impact on tourism, according immigration officials having the time and
to 25 US city mayors surveyed by the Travel expertise to use them. Private-sector firms might
Business Roundtable, a US trade association for perform the labour-intensive and painstaking
the travel industry. This is certainly something work of combing through the background data—
that governments would wish to avoid.19 but the responsibility for border protection is
In an ideal world, to ensure reliable identity unlikely ever to be outsourced, and will remain
verification, source-countries would create a labour intensive.
single database that would track birth, education Either way, whether immigration screening is
and marriage certificates, driving licenses and tightened through a co-ordinated multilateral
criminal records. Immigration officials from effort or in partnership with the private sector, the
foreign countries could, with permission from a goalposts will keep shifting. The advent of the
would-be migrant, access the information and Internet and other advances in technology will
verify easily the identity and credentials of a given mean that the supply and sophistication of
individual. Currently, countries are a long way forgeries continues to grow, and fake documents
from sharing this kind of information on the kind will remain difficult to detect.

19 More information available at http://www.tbr.org

22 © The Economist Intelligence Unit 2007

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