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Green card lottery winners stuck in obscurity: Biden in no hurry to lift Trump's restrictions

The final date is approaching when the winners of the green card lottery can obtain visas. But until now, thousands of people have not waited for the consideration of their application. Why is this happening and what can be done, said the publication Vox.

Photo: Shutterstock

Three years ago, during talks on immigration reform, then-President Donald Trump asked why the US accepts immigrants from "shitty countries."

He was referring to people from African countries who often have no other legal route to the United States other than through the green card lottery program. Every year, about 55 people from countries with low immigration rates to the United States are chosen by lottery to apply for a visa under this program. For many of them, this is the golden ticket to a better life.

Trump has repeatedly targeted and distorted the grieg card lottery. He blamed the program for the 2017 terrorist attack in New York, promising to end it. And the 45th president presented this as contradicting his proposal for a merit-based immigration system whereby the United States would select visa applicants based on desirable labor market characteristics, defined to make the immigrant population whiter and richer.

In fact, Trump never succeeded in shutting down the program, but his administration has deprived applicants of priority over other immigrants. The election of President Joe Biden should have made it easier to apply for a diversity visa. On the campaign trail, he pledged to keep the program unchanged, and shortly after his inauguration, the newly elected president pledged to expand the program by 25 visas a year as part of his proposed comprehensive immigration reform package.

But in the first months of his presidency, this did not work. What's more, lottery winners who applied for visas amid the COVID-19 pandemic are now at risk of losing the opportunity to travel to the United States - in part because the Department of State continued the Trump-era policy of lowering the priority of their applications.

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“What the Biden administration has done with the Diversity Visa program by depriving applications of priorities is contrary to the campaign's promises, and it only makes us worse,” said Rafael Urena, a US lawyer representing diversity visa applicants affected by the rule. "We really rely on the strength of our diverse population."

In response to a request for comment, a State Department official emailed a statement on condition of anonymity stating that the US government's ability to process these applications and schedule the required interviews is dependent on US embassies and consulates overseas, many of which are delayed due to closures and restrictions throughput in a pandemic.

They prioritize servicing U.S. citizens overseas and issuing visas for emergencies or emergencies, such as for people seeking to help America respond to the pandemic. Next on the list of priorities are immediate family members of US citizens, international adoptions, and engaged couples. Applicants for a multilateral visa round out the list.

“Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it is impossible to say how many visas will be issued to the winners of the lottery this year, but we want to set expectations and say: it is very likely that we will not issue everything,” the official said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically reduced the Department's ability to handle visas,” he explained. "In addition, a series of presidential decrees restricting travel in response to the pandemic have resulted in visa restrictions worldwide."

This means that lottery winners may miss out on a unique chance to come to the United States. The government must process their applications by September 30th. Otherwise, they lose their place. And they will most likely not win the lottery anymore - they have less than a 1% chance of being chosen from over 23 million participants.

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“It happens once in a lifetime,” said Maxwell Goodluck, a Ghanaian lottery winner who applied every year for 12 years before he was selected. “If we miss this opportunity, it will take the grace of God to win again. We don't know what to do. "

Administration's failure to issue visas has left thousands of people in limbo

Several lawsuits, filed on behalf of some 25 lottery winners from 000 countries, have generally argued that the federal government has a legal obligation to consider claims from lottery winners, and that enormous US resources can make this possible. But if this is not possible, they say they should still be able to obtain a visa after the September 141 deadline.

For Lisbeth Rosales, a lottery winner from Lima, Peru, this is what seems like the right way out of the situation.

“We have nothing against the country or the citizens of America. We just want everything to be fair. That's all, ”she said. - We are not just numbers. We are people. We have feelings, we have hopes, dreams. This is our only chance for a better future. "

Uncertainty about whether lottery winners will eventually be able to come to the United States has caused many to put their plans on hold and live in constant anxiety.

Rosales, who also applied for visas on behalf of her husband and their two young children, was planning to move to New Orleans, where she had previously worked in the hospitality industry as a student visa trainee.

She has friends there who prompted her to apply for the lottery in the first place, and her husband, who works as a cruise ship chef, will be able to find work too. They hoped to find better educational opportunities for themselves and for their 4-year-old son and almost one-year-old daughter.

The pandemic has hit Peru particularly hard, leading to one of the highest per capita deaths in the world and a deep economic downturn, and Rosales is convinced that moving to the United States seems particularly attractive at this time.

“For some of us, this is the only way out,” she said. - I feel the influence not only on myself, but also on everyone else. So it definitely creates sadness and anxiety. I would like the reality to be different. "

Goodluck, a Ghana-based lottery winner, says he and other potential visa holders are experiencing this concern. “We hardly sleep now,” he laments. - Sometimes it is impossible even to concentrate. You think about it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. "

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He holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and works in the IT department of the Ghana Department of Education. He says that he always wanted to engage in cybersecurity, but this requires further education. He has a cousin in Colorado who has promised to support him in achieving this goal if he moves to the United States.

His contingency plan is to pursue a master's degree in computer science in Ghana. To study cybersecurity, he will need to take an online course. But the tuition fees are very high and he doesn't want to start the program without knowing if he will stay in the country.

“This is a nightmare,” he said.

Congressional Democrats have proposed a bill to help, but is that enough?

House Democrats have tried to fix the plight of lottery winners in 2020 and 2021, but it's unclear how they'll succeed.

Rep. Grace Maine, NY, has amended the Homeland Security Appropriation Bill so that unused visas for diversity from 2020 and 2021 will remain available after the end of the fiscal year on September 30. This means that part of the 55 visas allocated for next year will go to people who applied in previous years.

Although the amendment was passed by the relevant House committee, the entire bill must go through a full vote in the House of Representatives. And it has yet to be considered by the Senate, where it is likely to face criticism from GOP members.

In May, Rep. Richie Torres, New York, introduced a bill that would help nearly 21 people who were either granted or applied for visas but were barred from entering the country due to Trump-era bans. However, it has not gained momentum since then.

On the subject: Not just a lottery: the easiest and fastest ways to get a green card

But none of these bills address the long waiting times that visa applicants are likely to face, even if they remain eligible beyond the September deadline. Visa applicants from previous years will be deprived of their places future applicants under the Maine Amendment.

“This will solve the problem of losing the eligibility to participate in the program,” said the attorney representing the visa applicants. “But in reality, in order to bring them into the country, the Biden administration would have to reorient its efforts towards issuing visas. We are facing long waiting periods. "

Urena said the wait can be expensive. He had one client who won the diversity visa lottery in 2020 but died while waiting for his visa to be issued. His older children hoped to come to the United States on visas and start a new life, but this is now impossible because they are no longer eligible for the program.

This is a sad reality for families who are simply trying to find a legal route to come to the United States.

“We have not done anything illegal. We just do what we have to do, ”Rosales said. "If we are really treated fairly, we can become the property of the country."

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