Three years ago, in the midst of negotiations on immigration reform, then-President Donald Trump infamously questioned why the United States accepted immigrants from “fucking countries. “
He was referring to people from African countries who often do not have a legal route to come to the United States, except through a program known as the “diversity visa lottery.” Each year, approximately 55,000 people from countries with low levels of immigration to the US are chosen through a lottery to apply for a visa through the program. For many of them, it is a golden ticket to a better life.
It was not the first time that Trump had targeted and misrepresented the program. Blamed a 2017 terrorist attack in New York on the show, promising to finish it. And he presented it as antithetical to his proposal of “based on merit“Immigration system, whereby the United States would select visa applicants based on desirable job market attributes, defined to make the immigrant population whiter and richer.
Trump never actually managed to finish the program, but his administration de-prioritized applicants relative to other immigrants. The election of President Joe Biden was supposed to bring relief to applicants for diversity visas. He had promised in the election campaign that he would keep the program intact, and shortly after its inauguration, promised to expand the program 25,000 visas per year as part of your proposed comprehensive immigration reform package.
But until well into the first year of his presidency, that has not materialized. Rather, diversity visa lottery winners who applied for visas amid the Covid-19 pandemic are now at risk of losing their opportunity to come to the U.S., in part because the State Department has continued with the Trump-era policy of deprioritizing their requests.
“What the Biden administration has done to the diversity visa program by deprioritizing, contravenes those campaign promises, and we are worse off for that,” said Rafael Urena, a US attorney representing diversity visa applicants affected by the politics. “We really rely on the strength of our diverse population.”
In response to a request for comment, a State Department official emailed me a statement on condition of anonymity saying that the ability of the US government to review these requests and schedule the required interviews is up to the embassies. and U.S. consulates abroad, many of which are behind schedule due to closures and capacity limits amid the pandemic.
They have been prioritizing services for U.S. citizens abroad and issuing visas in urgent or emergency situations, such as for people seeking to assist in the United States’ response to the pandemic. Immediate relatives of US citizens, international adoptions, and engaged couples are next on the priority list. Diversity visa applicants are in the very low.
“Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it is impossible to predict how many [diversity visas] we will issue this year, but we want to set adequate expectations and say that it is very likely that we will not issue the full allowance, “said the official.
“The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in deep reductions in the Department’s visa processing capacity,” the official added. “Additionally, a series of presidential proclamations restricting travel in response to the pandemic have led to increased restrictions on visa issuance around the world.”
That means diversity visa applicants could miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to the US The government has to process their applications before the September 30 deadline; otherwise, they lose their place. And they likely won’t win the lottery again – they have a less than 1 percent chance of being selected from more than 23 million participants.
“It’s a once in a lifetime,” said Maxwell Goodluck, a Ghana Diversity Visa Lottery winner who applied every year for 12 years before finally being selected. “If we lose this opportunity, it would take the grace of God to bring him back,” he told me, referring to himself and the other applicants in the same position. “We do not know what to do”.
The administration’s inability to issue diversity visas has left thousands in limbo
Various litigation Presented by approximately 25,000 diversity visa lottery winners from 141 countries in total, they have argued that the federal government faces a legal obligation to review applications from people who won the lottery and that the vast resources of the U.S. they can make that happen. But if that’s not possible, they say they should still have a chance to get a visa beyond the September 30 deadline.
For Lizbeth Rosales, winner of the diversity visa lottery from Lima, Peru, that’s what seems right. “We have nothing against the country or the citizens of the United States. We only want what is fair. That’s it, ”he said. “We are not just numbers of cases. We are people. We have feelings, we have hopes, dreams. This is our only chance for a better future. ”
The uncertainty over whether or not diversity visa lottery winners will eventually be able to come to the US has left many putting their plans on hold and living in constant anxiety.
Rosales, who also applied for diversity visas on behalf of her husband and two young children, planned to move to New Orleans, where she previously spent a year working in the hospitality industry as an intern on a student visa.
She has friends there who encouraged her to apply for the visa lottery in the first place, and her husband, who works as a cook on a cruise ship, might also find work. They also hoped to seek better educational opportunities for themselves and their 4-year-old son and almost 1-year-old daughter.
Given that the pandemic has affected Peru particularly hard, causing one of the the highest per capita death rates in the world and a deep economic recessionRosales said moving to the United States at this particular time seems especially appealing. But it has been difficult to live with the uncertainty. He has pitied other winners of the diversity visa lottery in the region on WhatsApp groups.
“For some of them, this is their only way out. This really breaks my heart because I consider myself in a better position than others. It may be God who makes me experience all this to better understand or value my life,” he said. “I feel affected not only by myself but by the rest. You are moved by the suffering of other people. So this definitely creates sadness and anxiety as well. I wish the reality was different.”
Goodluck, the Ghana lottery winner, says he and others are experiencing this anxiety. “We hardly sleep these days,” he told me. “Sometimes you can’t even concentrate. You are thinking about it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To console ourselves, we ended up crying. “
He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and works in the IT department for Ghana’s education department, but says he has always wanted to pursue cybersecurity, which would require more education. He has a cousin in Colorado who has promised to support him in that goal if he moves to the United States.
His endorsement plan is to pursue a master’s degree in computer science in Ghana. To study cybersecurity, you would have to take an online course. But the fees are high, and you don’t want to start the program without knowing if you will stay in the country.
“It’s a nightmare,” he said.
Democrats in Congress have proposed legislation to help, but it may not go far enough
House Democrats have been trying to remedy the plight of the 2020 and 2021 diversity visa lottery winners, but it’s unclear if they will.
Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) has presented a amendThere is a Homeland Security appropriations bill that would allow unused diversity visas from 2020 and 2021 to remain available after the fiscal year ends on September 30. That means that a portion of the roughly 55,000 diversity visas allotted for the next year would go to people you had applied for in previous years.
Although the amendment has been approved in the appropriate House committee, the entire bill has yet to survive a vote in the House plenary. And it has yet to be considered by the Senate, where it is likely to face opposition from members of the Republican Party.
In May, Representative Ritchie Torres (D-NY) also introduced legislation that would help nearly 21,000 people who were granted or applied for diversity visas but were barred from entering the country under Trump-era bans. However, it hasn’t gained traction in the months since.
But none of those bills address the long wait times diversity visa applicants are likely to face, even if they remain eligible beyond the September deadline. And diversity visa applicants from years past would take places away from future applicants under Meng’s amendment.
“It would solve the problem of loss of eligibility,” said Urena, the attorney representing diversity visa applicants. “But in reality, bringing them into the country, the Biden administration would have to refocus its efforts on awarding diversity visas. We are seeing long wait times and basically lose eligibility every year for [new] Diversity Visa Applicants “.
Ureña said the cost of waiting can be high. I had a client who had won the diversity visa lottery in 2020, but died while waiting for his visa to be issued. His older children expected to come to the United States on diversity visas and start a new life, but that will not be possible now because they are no longer eligible through their father.
It is a frustrating reality for families who are just trying to find a legal way to come to the United States. “We did not do anything against the law. We just follow what is supposed to be done, ”Rosales said. “If they really treat us fairly, we can be a good asset to the country.”