Visas Held Up: Thousands Left in Limbo

Thousands of people who were selected in the visa lottery are left in limbo days before the deadline to submit their paperwork. Winners have to be interviewed by a U.S. consular officer and then apply for a visa, but processing delays may prevent them from completing this process on time. “This is a life-changing event for many families,” said Emily Neumann, an attorney at the American Immigration Council. “People have been planning their lives around this.”

The U.S. State Department has asked that winners who cannot provide all necessary documents by March 3, 2018 to apply early next year for a visa. Winners will be given instructions on how to submit their documents online and pay for them once they are approved and completed by consular officers at U.S embassies and consulates abroad. However, it is possible that some visas may not be issued until 2019 depending on how many people miss the deadline or if there is insufficient demand for available visas in certain countries because of quotas set annually under the program.

“It’s not fair that someone can get to the second step and just not get visa, because of consulates’ lack of capacity,” said Neumann.

The diversity visa lottery allows up to 50,000 people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. to come in through a system that selects winners randomly by computer. The visas are only available for nationals of countries with significant populations of immigrants in the U.S., so successful applicants will have no choice about where they go upon receiving their visas. Due to lengthy waiting lists, there is already a backlog in processing green card applications which are made once immigrants receive their visas after choosing America as their preferred country to live in when they win the green lottery or apply for immigrant status due to their employment or family status.

Despite the State Department’s best efforts to reach out and inform lottery winners about the upcoming changes, there is still a large number of people who could discover their winning ticket was not processed in time for them to enter the country legally. A representative from New York Congresswoman Caroline Maloney’s office said Thursday that several constituents had called saying they couldn’t contact the State Department after finding out that their green cards were delayed due to “internal processing issues.” The office has reached out to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other officials asking for clarity on what could happen if green card applications are not submitted by next week’s deadline, but have yet to receive a response as it seems those individuals who were selected now rely solely on fate.

“I would say be very proactive and check all the information, even if you have to call several times,” advised Carmen Acosta Montes de Oca, the executive director of Latin American Integration Center in Baltimore. “Do it as soon as possible.”

Winners under this year’s lottery must complete their applications online by midnight on Thursday or 1 p.m. Friday China Standard Time (CST), depending on where they live and apply through a State Department website . Winners who applied during the last few days before registration was closed received emails instructing them to log into the system and pay for their visas so that an interview could be scheduled at a later date. The payment process is essential for processing applications, but those unable to access a computer or a credit card to pay for their visas will have to visit a U.S embassy or consulate in person with both the ID and visa fees needed by next Thursday.

“The timeframe they have given is very short,” said Carole Meyers, the assistant legal counsel at Catholic Charities Baltimore . “They were notified months ago that it was going to close.”

Meyers said she has been receiving frantic calls from lottery winners that are currently living overseas who have not been able to contact anyone from the State Department regarding their applications due to time differences. Many of them applied online right before midnight on May 2 but cannot make a payment because of a lack of internet access. She urged these individuals not to give up hope as there are still ways to get their approvals in time.