The fates of thousands of citizens of Central Asian states could be determined this fall on Capitol Hill in Washington.
The US Congress, which is ready to commence its fall session, is expected to wrestle with a comprehensive immigration reform bill. As currently written, the Senate version of the bill, adopted last June in a 68-32 vote, would eliminate a program known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa, also called the green card lottery.
Each year, over 10 million people from around the globe apply for the lottery and only about 55,000 succeed in securing a green card. Central Asians collectively comprise the second largest group that has obtained green cards via the lottery, trailing only Africans. The program has also enabled a significant number of people from the South Caucasus, specifically Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, to immigrate to the United States.
Many past winners from Central Asia and the Caucasus are saddened at the prospect of the lottery’s elimination, saying that the elimination of the program would close a window of opportunity for talented and ambitious individuals with otherwise limited prospects. “If the lottery program closes, people lose their only chance to fulfill their dream,” said Yusif, a lottery winner and a senior process engineer originally from Azerbaijan who is currently living in Houston. “I know that if these people win a green card they will have a successful life in the United States and will enrich this country both culturally and intellectually.”
The Diversity Visa Program traces its origins to the Immigration Act of 1990, and the first lottery was held in 1995. The program was intended to diversify the newcomer population by making it easier for people from countries with low-rates of immigration to move to the United States.
Robert P. Deasy, a spokesman for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told EurasiaNet.org that “the Diversity Visa Program will be eliminated if the Senate language is adopted” by the US House of Representatives. The Senate bill calls for the termination of the lottery after the 2015 fiscal year.
Whether or not the House will embrace the Senate version of the bill remains to be seen. And with the Republican-dominated House likely to be preoccupied by another budget showdown with President Barack Obama, it’s not certain that it will pass an immigration bill in any form.
The US State Department, the government agency that oversees the green card lottery process, is proceeding as though it is business as usual: A State Department website has announced that the application window for the 2015 Diversity Visa Program will open on October 1 and close November 2.
Past green-card winners express hope that the program can somehow survive. “I believe the DV lottery is an opportunity for people like me to come to the US and have a better life, said Malika Gadoeva, currently a student in New York. While she acknowledged that she has experienced hardships in America, she emphasized that the process has met her overall expectations. “The fact that I won has changed my life dramatically,” she said. “I felt that the dearest dream had come true.”