New York – Yemen is urging US government to take in dozens of Yemenis stuck in Malaysia due to President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban, which affects Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Last month, Supreme Court partially reinstated the ban which was blocked by lower courts before.
The Supreme Court’s ruling limited the number of people affected by the ban. But the fate of thousands of citizens from the six countries who won a randomized US government lottery last year remains largely unreported. The lottery enabled them to apply for green card granting them permanent residence in the US.
Unfortunately for the lottery winners, the 90-day travel ban will expire on Sept. 27, just three days before their eligibility for the green cards expires, and given the slow pace of the immigration process, it is most likely that the State Department will struggle to issue their visas in time.
US government sent an email recently warning lottery winners that it is plausible that their case will not be issued due to the travel ban.
Each year, about 14 million apply to the lottery, viewed by many as a chance with the “American Dream.”
Yet, chances of success are low, about 0.3 percent, or slightly fewer than 50,000 of lottery entrants actually got a green card in 2015.
Former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Obama administration Johnnie Carson said that the program helps to foster an image of US as a country which welcomes immigrants and immigration from around the world, especially from Africa.
Some former diplomats worry the travel ban’s impact on the lottery could tarnish that image of inclusiveness.
Former senior State Department consular official Stephen Pattison admitted that taking away people’s shot at the green card is the cruellest possible thing this administration could do.
“It makes us look petty and cruel as a society,” he said.
Reuters spoke to dozens of lottery winners from Yemen, Iran and Syria, including about 20 who are still waiting for their visas to be issued.
They described having spent thousands of dollars on the application process, and many said they had delayed having children, sold property and turned down job offers at home because they assumed they would soon be moving to the United States.
As for Yemenis, the situation is particularly difficult because the United States does not maintain a diplomatic post in Yemen, its citizens are assigned to other countries to apply for their visas, and many of them to have to take the long expensive travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Most of the Yemenis first live in high apartment building on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital where they established a small community. They are not allowed to work and are slowly running out of money.
“Imagine you get notified you got the golden ticket, only to have it yanked away,” said Joshua Goldstein, a US immigration attorney who advises lottery winners.
In 1990, Congress passed the “diversity visa” program in its current form to provide a path to US residency for citizens from a range of countries with historically low rates of immigration to US.
Yemen’s ambassador to the United States Ahmed bin Mubarak announced that Yemeni officials in Washington began holding meetings with State Department officials this month to find a way to get Yemeni lottery winners into the United States despite the travel ban.
“They’ve been in Malaysia for more than six months and sold everything in Yemen,” bin Mubarak said, adding: “We are doing what we can.”
The exact number of lottery winners is not determined, but in 2015, more than 10,000 people from the six countries won the lottery, and 4,000 of them eventually got visas.
Reuters stated that it met with Yemeni officials who provided a list of Yemeni lottery winners, mostly in Malaysia. It showed 58 Yemenis still waiting for a response to their applications, including some who have been stuck in security checks for more than eight months.
The State Department declined to comment on the figures, but departmental data shows that 206 Yemenis received diversity visas between March and June.
State Department officials informed lottery winners from the six countries that their visas would not be granted during the 90-day period the travel ban is in place unless they can demonstrate close family ties or other approved connections to a person or institution in the United States, according to an email seen by Reuters.
Among the Yemenis stuck in Malaysia, Rafek Ahmed al-Sanani, a 22-year-old farmer with a high school education. He traveled there in December via a route that included a 22-hour bus ride followed by flights to Egypt, Qatar and before reaching Malaysia.
“I was the first one to apply for the lottery in my family,” said Sanani, one of nine children in a family from Ibb governorate, north Yemen. He explain that he wants to travel to the US to learn English and continue his studies.
To fund his trip and expense in Malaysia, Sanani had to borrow ten thousand dollars.
Sanani has accepted his fate and is currently waiting to hear the outcome of his application: “What can I do? I will accept reality,” he said.