The State Department will retain any entries while other federal agencies "evaluate any possible intelligence value," according to a letter from the State Department to Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., head of the House immigration subcommittee.
Separately, Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote to U.S. intelligence agencies to ask whether they wanted to review the unsuccessful visa applications, said Ed Dickens, a spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Powell has not yet received a response.
The Associated Press reported last month that the State Department was shredding millions of unsuccessful applications - using high-speed shredders it calls "Igor One" and "Igor Two" - under its Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery. The lottery awards visas to 50,000 people randomly each year. Citing the AP's report, Gekas urged the administration to stop the shredding.
"Aliens who are on government watchlists may be attempting to enter the United States through the diversity visa program, but that ... would not be conveyed to the government agencies looking for these aliens," Gekas wrote. "A review of the applications ... could put those agencies on notice that an individual, known to pose a danger to our national security, is seeking to enter the United States."
Experts said many of the visa applications come from countries the Bush administration considers sponsors or harborers of terrorists. The shredding occurred despite Washington's post-Sept. 11 emphasis on sharing such information among law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
In the most recent lottery, the government received 8.7 million applications. It awarded visas to citizens of the seven countries the United States considers state sponsors of terrorism - Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Sudan. Citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and 178 other countries also received visas.
Senior counterterrorism and law enforcement officials told the AP they were unaware of the shredding and believed the information should be preserved for potential use in terrorism investigations.
In a written response to Gekas, dated Sept. 11, the State Department promised to comply "so that unsuccessful entries will be shared with law enforcement and intelligence agencies if they decide they are useful."
"Should any agency determine there is value to these lottery entry forms, we will pass these records to them now and in the future," wrote Paul V. Kelly, assistant secretary for legislative affairs.
Kelly noted that the visa applications - which include a person's name, photograph, current address and place of birth, as well as the same information and photographs for all immediate family members - "contain only minimal information." Kelly also noted that visa winners each year are carefully checked for terrorist backgrounds.
Dickens said the State Department has not yet received any response from the CIA or other agencies on whether they would be interested in reviewing the applications.
"We don't care if they're destroyed or not," he said. "If somebody thinks there is some value in these, we'd be happy to turn them over."