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US diversity visa recipients say programme must stay

US diversity visa recipients say programme must stay
From Al Jazeera - November 14, 2017

Bert Bayou counts himself among the lucky ones.

He had completed his undergraduate studies in politics and international relations and was working for the United Nations' World Food Programme in Ethiopia when his mother pestered him into applying for the Diversity Visa Lottery Programme.

In 2000, after entering for the first time, he "won".

Then 23-year-old Bayou, seeing it as his best opportunity to pursue his graduate studies, decided to take the next step and apply for the visa to come to the United States.

"I was young," Bayou told Al Jazeera. "I did not want to stay doing the same thing that I was doing.

"I really wanted to continue working on development projects and addressing poverty, and most of the international professionals that I knew working these jobs at a higher level had graduate degrees," Bayou continued.

Created by the 1990 Immigration Reform Act, the Diversity Visa Programme (DVP) selects 100,000 applicants in a lottery who are then eligible to apply for a US residency visa. After bring selected, the applicants go through the same application, screening and examination process as all prospective immigrants who come to the US. Only half complete the process and are issued Green Cards.

The process is time intensive - as it requires multiple certifications of documents proving an applicant's educational and work history - and, for many, expensive.

The $330 fee for filing the visa is sometimes multiple months' of an applicant's salary, Anu Joshi, director of immigration policy at the New York Immigration Coalition told Al Jazeera.

The costs - both in money and time - of translating a lottery win into a diversity visa are most easily and often paid by those who are highly educated, research in 2012 on the effects of the programme in Africa showed.

Far from a 'threat to national security'

In the hours and days following Sayfullo Saipov's alleged attackin New York City two weeks ago, which left eight people dead, US President Donald Trump quickly called for the end of the DVP, highlighting that Saipov, an Uzbek national, was admitted to the US through the programme.

Trump said it was a "disaster for our country" and called for a merit-based programme. He also promised to increase "extreme vetting" of immigrants.

Bayou said that diversity visa recipients are far from the "threat to national security" label Trump has used to depict them. They are going to school, getting married, raising kids, and building a life for themselves, he said.

"That's the kind of immigration programme you want to have continue," he added.

Despite often having advanced degrees from back home, Bayou said, many immigrants accept low-wage jobs outside of their profession, sometimes multiple, and the possibility of returning to school in order to pursue to promise of opportunity in the United States.

"My mom saw how her brothers managed to get here, get their papers, work small-paying, minimum-wage jobs and go to school and then they ended up having a good life, having a good job and having a stable life and living in peace," he said.

Still, many in the US wish to alter immigration programmes.

Proposed changes to the US immigration system - such as the RAISE Act introduced by Senator Tom Cotton and David Perdue in February 2017 - would eliminate this pathway to US residency and citizenship for 50,000 immigrants each year.

During a press conference, Cotton dismissed the Diversity Visa Programme as "outdated" and partially responsible for making a "permanent underclass" of both working-class Americans as well as immigrants "for whom the American Dream is always out of reach".

Cotton was also critical of the programme's role in "unlimited chain migration" of families, as he said visa recipients can "open up immigration no just to your immediate family, but your extended family, your village, your clan, your tribe".

Roy Beck, founder and president of NumbersUSA, a nonprofit that works for immigration reduction, told Al Jazeera there "may be a little more chain migration going on with the visa lottery because you are pulling people out of places that have not had a lot of previous immigrationthe fact is that every kind of immigration you have is multiplied by chain migration".

'How can you refuse?'

Shifting blame

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