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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Asylum and the DV Lottery (and DV Lottery Scams)

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It's Autumn, which means that it's time again for the Diversity Visa Lottery. The Lottery was created by Congress to increase immigration from countries that have traditionally sent us few immigrants. Every year, 50,000 people "win" the lottery and are then (probably) able to immigrate to the U.S.
The only problem with winning the DV Lottery is that it's hard to fit the green card in your wallet.

Given the current state of affairs in the asylum world (delay, delay, delay), some people with asylum cases pending are wondering whether they can use the Lottery as an alternative to asylum. The answer: It depends.

First, not all countries are eligible for the Lottery. Countries that have sent us large numbers of immigrants in the past are not included in the Lottery. If you are from one of the following countries, you are not eligible for the DV Lottery:

Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.
For China, please note that persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.

Even if you were born in one of the above-listed countries, you might be eligible for the Lottery if your spouse's country does not appear on the list, if your parents were not born in one of the countries on the list, or if your parents were not lawful residents of a listed country at the time you were born. You can lean more about these somewhat annoying requirements here.


Besides country-of-origin restrictions, the other requirement for eligibility is that applicants must have a high-school degree or the equivalent, or have "two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience to perform."


If you meet these two requirements, you can apply for the DV Lottery. This is free and actually pretty easy. Video instructions are here and you can apply here. You must apply before November 3, 2015. Winners are selected starting in May 2016.


There are also a number (probably a large number) of websites that will "help" you apply for the Lottery, for a fee. In the best case, this is a waste of money (it is just as easy to apply yourself). In the worst case, it is a complete fraud. You can learn more about these fraudsters and report scams to the U.S. government here.


Unlike most applications, I recommend that people do not use a lawyer for the Lottery and do not use a service. It is best to do it yourself.


However, if you win the Lottery, it is very wise to hire a lawyer to guide you through the green card process. Winning the Lottery does not guarantee that you will get a green card, and whether you can successfully take advantage of winning the Lottery depends on many factors and can be complicated--especially for people with asylum cases pending.


So let's say you have an asylum case pending, should you try the Lottery? The easy answer here is "yes," there is no harm in trying the Lottery. If you happen to win, then things get complicated (the odds of winning are hard to come by, but appear to be less than 1%).


If you win the Lottery while your asylum cased is pending, you can potentially obtain your lawful permanent residency (your green card) and close out your asylum case. Your spouse and minor children can also get their green cards as your dependents. The problem is that not all asylum applicants will be eligible to "adjust status" and become residents of the United States, and this is where it gets tricky.


A DV Lottery winner who filed for asylum while she was still "in status," meaning she was lawfully present in the U.S. at the time of filing, and who is still lawfully present here, can "adjust status." "Adjusting status" means changing from a non-immigrant status to a lawful permanent resident without leaving the U.S.


Most asylum applicants will not be "in status" for long enough to take advantage of the Lottery. For example, if you came here on a B visa and filed for asylum, the B visa was probably valid for only six months, which means that you will be out of status after the six month period ends. The fact that you filed for asylum does not change the expiration date of your visa (the expiration date of your stay is not written on the visa itself; you can look it up on-line here). Since the Lottery process takes much more than six months, you will be out of status by the time your green card is available, which means you cannot "adjust status." Instead, you would have to leave the United States and get the green card overseas.


Certain asylum applicants--those with long term visas, like F-1 students or H1B workers, who do not violate the conditions of their visas--might be able to remain in status long enough to adjust status and become lawful permanent residents without leaving the United States.


So if you are an asylum seeker who is out of status, can you leave the U.S. and collect your residency overseas? Maybe.

The key here is something called "unlawful presence." Once your lawful stay in the U.S. expires, each day here is considered one day of unlawful presence. If you accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence and then leave the U.S., you are barred from returning here for three years. If you accrue one year or more of unlawful presence and you leave, you cannot return for 10 years. This is known as the 3/10 year bar. A person who has an asylum case pending does not accrue unlawful presence. So for example, if you came on a B visa that was valid for six months, you overstayed your visa, and you filed for asylum four months after the visa expired (10 months after you arrived in the United States), you will have four months of unlawful presence. Once you file for asylum, you stop accruing unlawful presence, so even if your case takes two more years, you will still only have four months of unlawful presence, and you will not be subject to the 3/10 year bar if you leave (though you might be subject to other bars).

Assuming you are not subject to the 3/10 year bar, it may be possible to leave the U.S. and obtain your residency overseas based on the DV Lottery. However, for asylum seekers, this might mean returning to the country of feared persecution, which can be dangerous and might also raise suspicion at the U.S. consulate that your asylum case was not legitimate (if you can return to your country for the Lottery, maybe you never really feared persecution there). For asylum seekers (and others), it may be possible to leave the U.S. and pick up the green card in a third country, which would be the safer option.


If you are an asylum seeker who is subject to the 3/10 year bar and you leave to collect your residency, you will then need special permission to return (this is called a waiver). Such permission will be difficult--if not impossible--to obtain for most asylum seekers, and so people subject to the bar will most likely be unable to obtain their residency based on the DV Lottery.


Finally, asylum seekers who entered the United States without inspection are ineligible to adjust status and thus cannot take advantage of the DV Lottery (there may be a very narrow exception to this rule for people who meet certain conditions, including having been present in the U.S. since December 2000).


The bottom line here is that if you win the Lottery, you need to consult with a competent attorney. For asylum seekers, the ability to adjust status--or possibly leave the U.S. and return with residency--is crucial. It is very difficult to navigate these waters without the advice of someone who knows what he is doing. It makes sense to apply for the Lottery on your own, but if you win, it's time to hire a lawyer.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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