The Biggest Backlog in the US Diversity Visa Program? All the Broken Promises to Those Who Applied.

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“Your US Visa has been approved”—and then it isn’t.

This story is the result of a partnership between The Investigative Reporting Workshop and The Center for Public Integrity.

Osama Mohamed let out a sigh of relief as he and his wife stood at the steps of the US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the first day of September. Clutched tightly in his hands was the letter he’d been chasing for nearly a year and a half. “Congratulations!” its bolded words declared. “Your US Visa has been approved.” 

It had been 16 months since Mohamed, 28, had first applied to the United States Diversity Visa program. His petition became even more urgent in April, when political upheaval in his home country of Sudan prompted by an ongoing conflict that has resulted in thousands of casualties left Mohamed’s family home, near the capital in Khartoum, destroyed. 

The program has come to be known as the “green card lottery,” in which applicants submit to a laborious 10-step process of petitioning for entry into the United States. Once they arrive, they’re recognized as permanent residents, permitted to work, and enter the path of citizenship. It’s a longshot, by design, intended to open additional visas to would-be immigrants from countries that send relatively small numbers of people to the United States each year. 

The final step in the process is an in-person interview, often requiring applicants to traverse international borders to the nearest US Embassy. Mohamed and his wife traveled 700 miles to Addis Ababa for their interview, at which they were told in writing their visa had been approved. It was an “indescribable feeling,” Mohamed recalls, to hold a winning lottery ticket in hand. 

But just a few minutes later, Mohamed heard his name called over the public address system. The worker at window 7 explained that his application needed to be processed further. Mohamed was assured by a case officer that it would all be quickly resolved. Then, a week later, an email arrived: “The Department of State has issued all available diversity visas for the 2023 Diversity Visa (DV) Program,” it informed him. “You are welcome to reapply in future program years.”

Last month, the State Department informed applicants across the world that the US had awarded all 55,000 diversity visas being granted this year, despite the fact that more than 4,000 applicants were still in process, awaiting scheduled interviews for the program—the final step of an arduous process requiring fees, medical exams and often travel to embassies in other countries. Immigration attorneys say they have never experienced so many people being denied slots after reaching the interview stage. 

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