She was in her fourth year of college, living in Yemen, a newlywed and on the verge of becoming pregnant when she found out she had won the United States Visa Diversity Lottery, also known as the “Green card lottery”. It seemed like Al-Doais had beaten the odds – 12.4 million applicants applied for a chance to get up to 50,000 visas that could be issued for 2017.
But in 2017, then-President Donald Trump took a series of actions aimed at preventing people from Muslim-majority countries from coming to the United States. The one that was finally allowed to enter into force – Presidential Proclamation 9645 – imposed different levels of restrictions on foreign nationals of eight countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Somalia and Yemen.
The path to new life in the United States for Diversity Visa Lottery recipients as it seemed almost blocked. Although she said she was not refused under the decree, she was unable to get her green card before the deadline expired.
“After our dreams of traveling to the United States were shattered, everything changed completely and was destroyed in my opinion,” Al-Doais told CNN. “The easiest way to describe my life right now is it’s a nightmare.”
Now, four years later, with restrictions overturned by President Joe Biden, Al-Doais and other diversity visa recipients hope they can once again have the chance to relocate to the United States.
The Diversity Visa Program was established under the Immigration Act of 1990 to promote immigration from countries where fewer people come to the United States.
“This provides an opportunity for individuals to enter the United States who will usually have no other means of getting here,” Abed Ayoub, director of policy at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told CNN. .
Millions of people participate in the lottery every year; only a fraction is chosen.
Al-Doais said winning the visa lottery “was one of the greatest moments of (his) life.”
“It was a defining moment full of happiness,” she told CNN.
Lottery winners can apply for visas to the United States – a process that can be extremely expensive and difficult.
Ayoub said that among the diversity lottery winners he works with, it is common that “they have run up a lot of debt” while trying to get their green cards.
Al-Doais and his family sold their furniture and jewelry and borrowed thousands of dollars. Because the United States currently does not have an embassy in Yemen, she said they have traveled thousands of miles in Malaysia to interview for visas. Al-Doais said that shortly after her interview, she received an email from the embassy informing her that her visa was ready to be issued, but that her husband’s visa was being processed. She ran into a series of problems getting the visa, and before she could, her window of opportunity expired.
She now lives in Istanbul with her three-year-old daughter, Sidra. Her husband fled on foot to Europe a year and a half ago to look for work; he is now in a refugee camp in Serbia.
“My husband is not with me. I am psychologically destroyed. I am really lost; I do not know what to do or what will happen to me in the future,” she told CNN.
Ahmed, a winner of the Syrian Diversity Lottery, said he was invited to interview at the US Embassy in Jordan in 2019 after the US Embassy in Syria suspended its operations in 2012. CNN uses only his first name for his security. Ahmed said he got into debt to pay for travel expenses and expenses.
Although he knew Trump’s ban was in place, Ahmed said he was prepared to bet on any chance of getting out of Syria.
“If there is even a one percent chance that I have to get out of this country that literally destroyed me as a young man with ambition and hope for a better life, I would take it “, did he declare.
He told CNN that a consular official told him his visa application was denied due to the presidential proclamation and that he was not eligible for an exemption.
‘Correct this evil’
Ayoub of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee told CNN, “The previous administration could have said that we are not providing these visas because of the ban.”
“But they didn’t. They gave that hope. And now it’s the responsibility of this current administration to rectify this problem and give them the opportunity to come to the United States,” he said. he declares.
“This review will examine whether to reopen immigrant visa applications that have been refused due to the suspension and entry restrictions imposed by PP 9645 or 9983; whether it is necessary to charge additional fees to process these visa applications; and developing a plan to expedite the review of these visa applications, ”he said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday that “diversity visa recipients with valid and unexpired visas can now apply for immediate entry into the United States as they are covered by a general exception relating to the national interest “.
However, under current law, most of those who were unable to get a visa by the end of their window or have expired visas will have to start over.
Pending State Department review, applicants who were refused due to Trump’s PP 9645 and who were not eligible for a waiver by January 20, 2020 “must reapply for a visa … and pay new visa processing fees, “the consul said. business website says.
Al-Doais and Ahmed hope the policy changes will give them another chance to get green cards.
“I hope that President Biden, his administration and the State Department will restore our rights, me and everyone who has won the lottery, since 2017, because, really, we live in a truly tragic condition,” he said. Al -Doais told CNN.
“I am ready to do anything to get out of this hell,” Ahmed said.