Liberia: COVID-19 Case Backlog Causing Headaches For U.S. Diversity Lottery Applicants
Monrovia – Due to a significant backlog of all categories of immigrant visas, U.S. embassies and consulates around the world continue to experience questions regarding the status of winners of the annual Diversity Lottery.
In Liberia, thousands play the lottery in hopes of getting opportunities to immigrate to the USA legally, if they meet all the eligibility or have a friend or relative in the USA to support them.
The draw is held each year to offer 50,000 immigrant visa to immigrate to the USA to maintain the diversity of the people living in the USA. It is free to apply for the draw but the winners must pay the visa processing fees, if selected as winners in the draw.
In Liberia, several of those who applied at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic have been left in the cold.
Jennifer Nelson, a resident of Monrovia, in a recent letter to FrontPageAfrica, sought assistance in ascertaining why the US embassy in Monrovia has not been offering much regarding the Lottery this year. All this as the deadline for the current group of winners limps toward the expiration date.
Nelson, who says she is a selectee (winner) in the Diversity Visa (DV) 2021 program explains that the Immigration Act of 1990 established the Diversity Visa (DV) program, where 50,000 immigrant visas would be available in an annual lottery, starting in fiscal year 1995. The lottery aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States, by selecting applicants from all over the world. This fiscal year (2021), there are over 1,000 plus Liberians that were luckily selected out of 14 million applications.
Nelson, however, notes that initially in March 2020 due to COVID-19, the State Department put a moratorium on all visa issuance worldwide because of the travel ban imposed by ex-president Trump. However, on February 24, 2021, President Biden removed the ban See link here and US embassies around the world have begun scheduling interviews for DV2021.
Nelson laments that unlike the embassy in Monrovia, the US embassy in neighboring Ivory Coast is currently scheduling interviews for DV2021 winners.
“Unfortunately, the US embassy in Monrovia is not scheduling Diversity Visa 2021 interviews and disappointingly they have not said when they will begin. They have not even provided any information on their website yet for Diversity Visa 2021 winners from Liberia even though the time is running out. Interviews are scheduled one month in advance, so realistically, there are ONLY 3 more months left out 12 months to schedule an interview (but yet they have not scheduled a single interview for DV2021 here in Liberia). The Fiscal year for Diversity Visa 2021 ends on September 30, 2021, after that time our dream will be over forever.”– Jennifer Nelson, Liberian DV Winner
According to Nelson, in January 2021, the U.S. embassy in Monrovia updated its website regarding the resumption of certain immigrant visa classes appointment/interview for many months before February 24, 2021 as seen in attachment one.
She says: “After President Biden rescinded Presidential Proclamation (P.P.) 10014, the US embassy in Liberia again updated their website saying “we have resumed immigrant visa appointment”, available here < https://lr.usembassy.gov/visas/ > The U.S. embassy in Monrovia is currently interviewing immigrant visa applicants but they are NOT interviewing DV2021 (please see attached visas stats for Feb. and March 2021).”
Nelson however states that unfortunately, the US embassy in Monrovia is not scheduling Diversity Visa 2021 interviews and disappointingly they have not said when they will begin. “They have not even provided any information on their website yet for Diversity Visa 2021 winners from Liberia even though the time is running out. Interviews are scheduled one month in advance, so realistically, there are ONLY 3 more months left out 12 months to schedule an interview (but yet they have not scheduled a single interview for DV2021 here in Liberia). The Fiscal year for Diversity Visa 2021 ends on September 30, 2021, after that time our dream will be over forever.”
Contacted recently regarding the lack of activity regarding the visa lottery in Liberia, Mr. Michael Ardaiolo, Head of Public Affairs at the embassy told FrontPageAfrica that the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has provided details regarding how embassies and consulates are prioritizing immigrant visa applications as the Department works to reduce the backlog of such applications resulting from travel restrictions and operational constraints caused by the global COVID pandemic.
The full measures can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/visas-news/immigrant-visa-prioritization.html
The State Department emphasizes that the health and safety of its personnel, U.S. citizens seeking assistance abroad, individuals seeking immigration benefits, and local populations is paramount.
Therefore, its missions abroad processing both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas are prioritizing immigrant visa applications while still providing some nonimmigrant visa services.
The State Department notes that the volume and type of visa cases each post will process continues to depend on local conditions, including restrictions on movement and gathering imposed by host country governments. “In addition, consistent with U.S. government guidance on safety in the federal workplace, U.S. embassies and consulates have implemented social distancing and other safety measures, which have reduced the number of applicants consular sections are able to process in a single day. Consular sections will resume providing all routine visa services as it is safe to do so in that particular location.”
Realizing the stress and hardships they have borne during the past year, the US State Department says it has been forced to make difficult decisions regarding how its consular sections should prioritize immigrant visa applications as they operate at limited capacity and as they work through a backlog of immigrant visa cases once they resume full operating capacity.
The document notes: “The guiding principle on which we have based immigrant visa prioritization is that family reunification is a clear priority of the U.S. Government’s immigration policy, a priority is expressed in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Specifically, the Department’s prioritization relied on clear direction from Congress that the Department must adopt a policy of prioritizing immediate relative visa applicants and K-1 fiancées of U.S. citizens, followed by family preference immigrant visa applicants.”
Consistent with those objectives, U.S. embassies and consulates are using a tiered approach to triage immigrant visa applications based on the category of immigrant visa as they resume and expand processing. While our consular sections, where possible, are scheduling some appointments within all four priority tiers every month, the following lists the main categories of immigrant visas in priority order:
Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), and certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government)
Tier Two: Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas
Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad
Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas
Many embassies and consulates continue to have a significant backlog of all categories of immigrant visas. This prioritization plan instructs posts to maximize their limited resources to accommodate as many immediate relative and fiancé(e) cases as possible with a goal of, at a minimum, preventing the backlog from growing in these categories and hopefully reducing it. However, the prioritization plan also instructs posts to schedule and adjudicate some cases in Tier Three and Tier Four each month. The Department recognizes that visa applicants, particularly those in Tiers Three and Four, will face continued delays. We further acknowledge that certain programs, including the diversity visa program, operate on a fiscal year basis as required by law. The Department values the diversity visa program and is making every effort to process as many diversity visa cases as possible, consistent with other priorities, despite the severe operational constraints and backlog resulting from the COVID pandemic. However, as a result of COVID the number of visas issued in lower-priority preference categories or in such programs as the diversity visa program likely will not approach the statutory ceiling in Fiscal Year 2021.