ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast—Cybercafes in the war-torn Ivory Coast are abuzz with Africans hoping to become American residents through a U.S. visa lottery that has been criticized post-September 11 as a potential loophole for terrorists.
“I want to get out of here. If I get a green card, life will change . . . I will work so hard,” said Jean-Bruce, a political science student who paid $4 to use cafe computers to register for his third visa lottery in as many years. He declined to give his family name, fearing retaliation from local authorities.
A few weeks ago, the U.S. State Department opened its annual “Diversity Visa Lottery,”—a 15-year-old program designed to broaden the pool of new immigrants entering the United States.
Applicants must register electronically by Dec. 5, and manager Guillaume Diagba of the Cyberbusiness Cafe reminds his patrons of the fact with a large sign reading, “Become an American: Transform your dream into a reality.”
Out of 6.3 million applicants worldwide last year, 374 Ivorians won the green-card lottery. Mr. Diagba boasts that one of the winners registered at his cafe.
The lottery, established by a 1990 act of Congress, makes 50,000 green cards available every year to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
The winners are chosen by a computer-generated random lottery drawing but distributed among six geographic regions with preference given to the areas with the lowest annual immigration rates.
Deputy Inspector General for the State Department Ann W. Patterson has testified before Congress that despite improvements in the system—including digital fingerprinting to prevent fraud—the visa lottery remains an opportunity for criminals and terrorists to infiltrate U.S. borders.
And unlike temporary visas, green cards allow the holders to enter and leave the United States at will.
“In a post-9/11 world, we need to know who is coming to the United States and not drawing names out of a hat,” said John Keeley, spokesman for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tighter restrictions on both legal and illegal immigration.