Call for Lottery Rejects on Photograph Grounds: Discrimination, Arbitrariness, Selective Enforcement

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With the DV-2016 registration period in full swing, this is a good time to raise awareness about potential pitfalls encountered by DV applicants.  Perhaps the most seemingly innocuous requirement – submission of a photograph with the entry – is the one most easily overlooked.

The Diversity Lottery has several rules relating to the photograph submitted with the entry: 1) it must be on a neutral, light-colored background (dark or patterned backgrounds are not permitted); 2) it must be in focus; 3) no decorative items such as sunglasses or other items can detract from the face; 4) non-religious head coverings or hats are not permitted; and 5) the person must be looking directly at the camera.  But as is usually the case, the Kentucky Consular Center does not disqualify the entries at the time of intake during the registration period or after selection: it is only after the visa applicant is informed of his selection; after he gathers, prepares, and translates the supporting documentation;  undergoes a medical exam and prepares new photographs; attends a visa interview; and pays the application fee is he informed by the consular officer that the application has been denied because of a noncompliant photograph.  Usually, the consular officer knows in advance that he will be denying the application because of a single photograph, but nevertheless charges visa application fees for the entire family.

Over the years, a trend has emerged, with only a small number of consular officers around the world actually denying Diversity visa applicants on these grounds.  Why is that?   Is it because an applicant used a visa agent, the source of much consular animus? Is it discrimination (overt or latent) – with overzealous consular officers consciously or subconsciously seeking to turn away applicants of certain national origin or religious background?And why is it that certain consular officers selective enforce the rules: they deny some individuals, but issue visas to individuals with photographs less conforming then those who were denied? For example, an applicant barely visible with a fuzzy DV photograph receives a visa, but a person who is clear and unmistakable in the DV photograph is denied.  These are not imposters who are being denied – the initial rationale and impetus for the DV photograph rule; nor are they individuals who pose a security threat – another posited argument for the photograph rule.

And so perhaps the biggest questions: why is it that certain consular officers alienate visa applicants, their families and friends, all the while spending hours and hours of time attempting to enforce a petty, subjective rule that the overwhelming majority of their consular brethren do not enforce? Why is it that these consular officers are attempting to enforce a nebulous rule – what is “in focus”, what is a “neutral background” – against innocent visa applicants that has nothing to do with ensuring the qualifications of the applicant, securing our borders, or weeding out criminals or visa fraudsters?

If you have been denied a Diversity visa on photograph grounds by a consular officer in DV-2012, DV-2013, or DV-2014, please contact our office at