DV-2015 Lottery Fever

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Congratulations to the winners of the DV-2015 Green Card Lottery. Against great odds, you were selected. Now comes the hard part.

As you know, selection does not guarantee a visa. 125,514 individuals were selected for DV-2015 (out of 9,388,986 entrants), but only 50,000, including their family members, receive visas. Winners must receive their visas by September 30, 2015 or before the 50,000 quota or 3,500 country quota is exhausted. In general, the lower the case number, the earlier the interview and the better chances of receiving the visa before the elapse of the program. Interviews will commence October 1, 2014. The big difference in DV processing this year is that the selectees and their family members will submit their immigrant visa application online and no paper will be filed with the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC).

Each Lottery visa applicant must meet the general requirements for admissibility to the United States. Admissibility bases for refusal include medical, criminal, security, and previous unlawful presence in the US. But in addition to these admissibility bases and the general Lottery eligibility requirements of education or experience and nationality chargeability, there are numerous reasons for a consular officer to deny diversity visa applicants – some of them, quite reasonable; others – not so. Whether understandable or not, the risks can be quite high – from paying thousands of dollars in visa fees and travel expenses without receiving the visas, to having tourist or student visas cancelled, to being unable to receive these visas in the future, or to being subject to a permanent bar to entry to the United States.

Each DV applicant must attend his/her interview at the appointed time. While this sounds simple, those who miss their interview run the risk of not having the interview rescheduled because of significant demand for the visas. Even showing up at the Embassy for the interview without one’s passport may be cause to turn a person away from the Embassy and therefore his opportunity for the visa. It’s happened – for example, to immigrate, a person may have applied with his home government for a new passport or for an exit stamp and does not receive the passport back by the date of the interview. Embassy guards, with the imprimatur of consular management, may, and have, turned away such applicants in the past, thereby depriving Lottery “winners” of the opportunity to receive immigrant visas.

The most common reason for denial is that the visa application is not processed to conclusion before the end of the program. At the interview, the consular officer tells the applicant that he or she must present additional documentation or that his application must undergo administrative processing. Even when the applicant submits additional documentation in a timely fashion, that does not mean that his application will be adjudicated before the deadline. Last year we wrote about how the US Embassy in Tashkent was not diligently finalizing the processing of pending applications, and instead collected new fees and reallocated visas to new applicants. Of course, all is not dependent on a consular officer: if an application does not receive final security clearances from Washington before the deadline, the consular officer is not authorized to issue the visa.

Some of the most bizarre Lottery-specific denials that we have seen over the years relate to photographs. One would think that if the State Department’s Lottery website accepted a photograph for entry that the photograph met the requirements. Not true, in the opinion of some consular officers. Many have disqualified applicants because the photograph in the DV-entry was not on a neutral background; was partially darkened; was not “recent”; or did not look like the person because they gained a lot of weight. These individuals and their families were refused by a consular officer after 1) the State Department accepted the DV entry; 2) the KCC did not disqualify the entry after selection; and 3) they paid the processing fees, bolstering the coffers of the government by tens of thousands of dollars in visa fees and allowing officers to reallocate the visas to other individuals.

“Pop-up” marriages – marriages after selection, but before the visa interview – are also targeted by consular officers for refusals – often times, justifiably so; other times, not. We previously wrote about the Ukrainian man who died of a stroke the day after being baselessly accused of entering a sham marriage by a consular officer. Another couple was permanently barred from the US for allegedly having a sham marriage; 10 years later, they are still happily married, have two children, but can no longer visit or immigrate to the US.

Other issues that arise at the visa interview include the education or experience credentials of the applicant (e.g., authenticity of the diploma); consular questions about whether the applicant will be able to support his family in the US or will become a public charge; the applicant’s failure to include a spouse or a child on the DV-entry; the presence of a relative in the US illegally; and the accuracy of past visitor visa applications.

For example, if the husband of the selected individual had previously procured a US visa under false pretenses and the consular officer found him to be subject to Section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) for a material misrepresentation, the family can immigrate through the DV program, but he would need to file for a waiver after his wife arrived in the United States. He would then need to have the waiver adjudicated before the end of the DV program for that fiscal year (or immigrate with a waiver based on a family immigration petition).

As one can see, the DV program can be wonderful for the thousands of individuals who win the Lottery and immigrate every year. For those who are selected and do not receive visas, the program can be a living nightmare – one that can haunt for years to come. To minimize your chances of being on the outside looking in, contact us to discuss your situation.