Dorisnelly Fuentes Matos may have won the US visa lottery on paper, but she is still not close to reaching the United States.
The 27-year-old Cuban economics student was told over a year ago that she had won a coveted place to apply for one of the 55,000 visas that the U.S. government issues each year as part of a lottery aimed at increasing the diversity of the country. She filed the documents at a Kentucky State Department processing center and waited to be called for an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Guyana, which handles visa applications for Cubans.
But the interview never came. Now the visas are due to expire on Thursday, leaving her and her husband in limbo.
“We are desperate and are asking someone to help us because we are here in the middle of nowhere,” said Fuentes Matos, who is awaiting a meeting in Guyana and is among thousands suing the US government. for delays. “We’re stuck in this country, and we can’t even go back to Cuba.”
More than 20,000 people have filed a lawsuit after being declared winners of the visa lottery and submitting the required documents, but were never granted an interview or the opportunity to come to the United States. The government issued about a quarter of the visas allocated for the fiscal year ending in September after processing was halted during the coronavirus pandemic, and then resumed at a much slower pace, with other visa applications taking priority. declared their lawyers.
A State Department official said the pandemic had resulted in “deep cuts” in its ability to process visas. While embassies and consulates have been instructed to try and prioritize lottery cases, the United States is unlikely to issue as many visas as it could for the soon-to-end fiscal year, said the manager.
This is what worries Fuentes Matos. As the visa deadline approached, she became nervous about being asked to quickly attend a meeting with a U.S. consular official in Guyana. So she and her husband gave up their jobs, sold their house, and bought plane tickets to travel a roundabout route through Spain and Panama to Georgetown, where they stayed in a hostel and awaited the interview. still hasn’t come.
Winning the lottery is already a stretch. Millions of people register each year and only 55,000 visas are issued. The chance of getting a winning ticket is infinitesimal, and from there they have to queue for a consular interview. Even in a typical year, not everyone will get one until the United States runs out of visas for the year.
For years, the United States largely issued its assigned diversity visas, most of which went to people from Africa and Europe. After the pandemic hit, the Trump administration froze many green cards issued outside the United States, including these visas. Some of the affected lottery contenders have taken legal action and a federal judge last year ordered the administration to reserve 9,000 diversity visas for next year.
The Biden administration lifted the green card freeze this year. But the State Department still hasn’t issued most of this fiscal year’s diversity visas, so another group of lottery winners are now facing a similar situation.
Curtis Lee Morrison, an immigration attorney representing thousands of diversity visa applicants, said some of his clients have sold cars and homes to pay for costs associated with the application, such as traveling to a third country for a consular interview. Applicants who are selected as winners and submit all required documents showing they are eligible are still out of luck due to delays, he said. Morrison said clients found his business through social media and despite the large number of plaintiffs, the lawsuit did not have class action status.
âWhen the diversity visa program was put in place, it was put in place as a diplomatic tool,â Morrison said. âWe are losing the credibility of our tool. Instead, we look like scammers.
Lawyers for the applicants again asked a judge to reserve the visas so that they did not expire. The US government is opposed to the move, saying setting aside large numbers of visas will give plaintiffs a better chance of getting a visa than lottery winners would normally have. U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta in Washington said he would make a decision before the visas expired on Thursday.
Fuentes Matos is counting on the judge to keep hopes of moving to the United States, but said she was only allowed to stay in Guyana for three months. She said she was one of four families awaiting a consular interview and didn’t know what she would do if it didn’t.
She decided to participate in the visa lottery in hopes of building a better life for herself and her husband, who worked as a taxi driver in Havana.
“We left nothing in Cuba,” said Fuentes Matos. âWe are going through very difficult times.