Dr. Jan Meyer: Citizenship lottery brings ‘good neighbors’ to USA

By : 
Dr. Jan Meyer
The Biker's Diary

A week or so ago I met a very nice and interesting young gentleman; he was a salesperson in the men’s department at one of the big department stores. Because I believe everyone has an interesting story, I like to talk to people and hear theirs. This young man was particularly intriguing because I couldn’t immediately detect his accent. I quickly found out he had won the lottery, but not a lottery where the prize is money, nor does one buy a ticket to win. There are over 50,000 first prizes every year: each one is a green card, or permanent resident card, to live in the U.S. Obviously all of the winners — and all of the entrants — are non-U.S. citizens.

About 25 years ago, I met another person who later won this lottery. Guilliermo is German, and when I first met him he was living in Frankfurt where he worked for the same international airline I was doing consulting with in Southeast Asia. About 15 years ago, on one of my trips to Bangkok, he told me he was in the process of retiring and moving to the U.S. Of course I asked how he was able to do that. He elatedly told me he had won the citizenship lottery, something I had never heard of before then. He gave me his new address in Florida.

This program is commonly known as the Green Card Lottery, but is officially titled the Diversity Visa Program. It is administered by the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. There is no fee to apply, but applicants must be at least 18 years old, and a high school graduate or the equivalent. It was created by Congress as part of the Immigration Naturalization Act of 1990, to begin in 1995. Originally there were 55,000 visas allocated to the program, but since 1999, 5,000 of those have been allocated to the NACARA program. (That program is officially titled the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act of 1977; citizens of certain countries applying for the lottery are treated differently and NACARA has its own website.) That reduces the number of green cards available to the lottery each year to 50,000.

The initial intent of this program was to increase the diversity of immigrants, thus it gives citizens from under-represented countries the opportunity to live and work in the U.S. permanently and legally. Each year, a list of countries whose citizens are not eligible to apply is established. Basically, countries are not eligible if more than 50,000 of their citizens have immigrated to the U.S. over the past 5 years. The green card winners are distributed according to certain rules, with the greater number of visas going to those regions with the lowest number of immigrants to the U.S. over the past year. No single country can receive more than 7% of the 50,000 available visas.

According to its website, countries listed as not eligible for 2016 are Bangladesh, mainland China, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, the United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland which is eligible), Canada, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Nigeria.

Registration is free and can be simple. However, the rules are strict and many applications are rejected because of small errors. Not surprisingly, fraud and scams are out there, so many websites advertise that they will help individuals with the process. The government’s website for applying suggests that using a service is one option, however, be aware that not all sites offering the help are legitimate. There is only one currently recommended by the State Department. The applications are accepted online only, in the fall through October to the middle of November.

When I was talking with this young man whose accent I did not recognize at first, I found out he grew up in Nepal. Of course since I have been there on four different occasions, most recently this past winter, we had a lot to talk about. I was especially curious as to how he ended up in Minnesota. He told me “it was not directly from there to here.” After he completed his education, he lived and worked in London for five years. Friends of his encouraged him to enter the green card lottery, and at first he declined because he thought he could never win. However, after more urging, he agreed to do it.

He was so convinced that he could not win that he did not watch the website for results. The same friends who had encouraged him to enter kept checking for him, however. One day, one of those friends called him and said, “You won!” He said he had to look at it three different times before he finally believed it, and of course, eventually he also got the official notification.

Then he and his wife started the process of determining where they would settle in the U.S. As he told it, they did a lot of online research, and on all of the factors that were important to them, Minnesota kept coming up at the top of the list. So, Minnesota it was, and here they are.

There seems to be a certain amount of resistance to the program; various attempts to discontinue it have been made since its inception. Maybe because I know two people who have come here via the lottery, I feel it is a good program. If those two are representative of the winners, that lottery is providing us with some pretty good residents, who are hard working and happy to be here. They are grateful, and loyal. Who better could we ask to be our neighbors?