Tens of thousands of families around the world are at risk of losing a rare opportunity to immigrate to the United States.
For the past three decades, the Diversity Visa Program has awarded a path to legal permanent residence to about 55,000 people each year from countries with low levels of immigration to the U.S. Each applicant has a less than 1% chance of winning a green card.
The U.S. government must process the applications of lottery winners before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, or else the winners will lose their shot at a green card.
Winning the lottery is already a stretch. Millions of people sign up each year, and only up to 55,000 visas are awarded. The chance of getting a winning ticket is infinitesimal, and from there, they must wait in a line for a consular interview. Even in a typical year, not everyone will get one before the U.S. runs out of visas for the year.
More than 20,000 people have sued after they were declared winners of the visa lottery and turned in the required paperwork but never got an interview or a shot at coming to the United States. The government has issued about a quarter of the visas allotted for the fiscal year ending in September after processing was halted during the coronavirus pandemic and then resumed at a much slower pace as other visa applications got priority, their attorneys said.
A State Department official said the pandemic led to “profound reductions” in its capacity to process visas. While embassies and consulates have been instructed to try to prioritize the lottery cases, the U.S. likely won’t issue the number of visas it could for the soon-to-be-ending fiscal year, the official said.
For years, the U.S. was largely issuing the diversity visas that were allotted, with most going to people from Africa and Europe. After the pandemic hit, the Trump administration put a freeze on many green cards issued outside of the United States, including these visas. Some of the affected lottery applicants sued, and a federal judge last year ordered the administration to reserve 9,000 diversity visas into the next year.
Curtis Lee Morrison, an immigration attorney representing thousands of diversity visa applicants, said some of his clients have sold cars and homes to pay for costs associated with the application, such as traveling to a third country for a consular interview. Applicants who are selected as winners and submit all the required paperwork showing they are eligible are still finding themselves out of luck due to the delays, he said. Morrison said clients found his firm via social media and despite the large number of plaintiffs, the suit did not have class-action status.
Attorneys for the applicants have again asked a judge to reserve visas so they don’t expire. The U.S. government opposes the move, saying setting aside a large number of visas will give the plaintiffs better odds at getting a visa than lottery winners would normally have. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta in Washington said he will make a decision before the visas are set to expire Thursday.
Culled from AP News
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