Feb 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Diversity visa winners losing chance to immigrate

Illustrated collage of a scratch off card covered in travel stamps surrounded by stars. Scratch off reads, "USA Lottery".

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

More than 1,000 foreigners have seen their luck wasted — winning a coveted diversity green card lottery only to see their visas expire because of the coronavirus and former President Trump's immigration ban.

Why it matters: President Biden has been dismantling many of his predecessor's immigration policies, yet some coronavirus-related restrictions remain — threatening at least 6,500 issued visas set to expire by the end of March.

"President Biden should immediately renounce this illegal usurpation of congressional power and restore the status quo by declaring those bans void," Charles Kuck, an immigration attorney involved in lawsuits on behalf of diversity visa lottery winners, told Axios.

  • “The executive actions signed thus far are just the beginning," a White House spokesperson said. "President Biden has been very clear about restoring compassion and order to our immigration system.”

Background: The diversity visa lottery is a program intended to bring in immigrants from underrepresented countries who don't have family or employers already in the U.S. to sponsor them.

  • A total of 55,000 green cards are available through the lottery each year. Millions of foreigners apply, and typically about 50,000 of the issued visas are used each year, according to historic State Department data.
  • The Trump administration often criticized the idea of a visa lottery and wanted to end the program.

Fast forward: Kuck told Axios at least 6,500 issued visas are at risk of expiring before Trump's ban lifts in March. At least 1,000 have already expired.

  • Barring a court decision or action from Biden, only a few thousand of the total 55,000 diversity lottery visas available from 2020 will have been used to enter the country.
  • Immigrant advocates have sued. "We feel confident we will shortly have a victory in one of these courts before March," Kuck said.

In September, Axios highlighted Fatma's story. For a decade, the 29-year-old Albanian applied for a green card through the diversity visa lottery. She ultimately was selected — only to fight the coronavirus and Trump for her chance to come to the states.

  • Since that article, Fatma had her interview and received her visa but could still be permanently blocked from coming into the U.S.
  • Fatma's lawyer told Axios her visa will expire on March 11 — 20 days before Trump's ban lifts.
  • She and her attorney are "so disappointed and desperate."
Go deeper