By Chaleampon Ritthichai
It has been more than five years since his student visa expired
but Dybu (who did not want to have his last name used) remains living
and working illegally in the United States. With a hope to stay
and work in New York City as a legal resident, Dybu participates
in a visa lottery program.
"Its the only way I can see myself out of this legal
limbo."said the 30-year-old immigrant from Mali, a small French
speaking country in West Africa.
His chance is small. Each year more than six million people apply
for the 50,000 coveted visas. Now there is another obstacle: he
is a Muslim.
According to the State Department, extensive security checks since
September 11 have created a delay in getting visa approval and might
increase rejection rates for prospective immigrants from Muslim
Created in the Immigration and Naturalizations Act of 1990, the
Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or Visa Lottery, is aimed at increasing
the number of permanent residence visas, commonly known as green
cards, from regions of world that normally receive disproportionately
Yamina Amrani, an immigrant attorney who is also a Muslim, said
that 9/11 has affected good Muslims all over the world. "Winning
the lottery visa does not necessarily mean you can get green card
right way. You must pass a security check, among other things. Now
its even harder for people from Muslim countries."
The State Department issued visa approvals to 16,308 lottery winners
worldwide from October 1 2000 to Feburuary 28 2001, according to
official figures. But for the same period a year later, the number
approved was only 14,074- a decline of 2,234 or about 14 percent.
A state Department official said almost all of that was the result
of lower numbers from Muslim countries, even though all of the dozens
of predominantly Muslim countriesexcept Pakistanare
eligible to participate. (Pakistan already has a large number of
people who immigrate to America.)
In New York City the Muslim groups who benefited the most from
the lottery visa program were from Bangladesh and Egypt, according
city planning report.
The program is also credited with the revitalization of several
New York City neighborhoods including Sunnyside Queens where many
Muslim immigrants live.
"Ive been living here for years. I can tell you now
its not a good time to be a Muslim in America," said
Sabur (who did not want to have his last name used) an immigrant
from Bangladesh who also applied for the visa lottery. "This
is my fourth year of trying. I dont think Ill ever get
For many illegal immigrants like Dybu and Sabur, getting a green
card would not only mean the opportunity to work legally, usually
at a better wages, but it would allow them to bring their spouses
and children to the United States.
"If I have a green card I can go home without fear of being
turned back when I try to come back to America. I havent seen
my kid in years," said Dybu who has applied for the visa lottery
every year since 1997.
The winners were chosen by a random computer-generated drawing
following the mail-in period from October 1 to October 31 of last
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