It was difficult and expensive enough trying to get a green card prior to September 11th, the Patriot Act, and the perception that people from the Middle East are no longer welcomed in to the U.S. Now, for most Iranians, obtaining a green card is not only difficult, it's that much farther out of reach. I think we deserve better and luckily, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The State Department will give 50,000 green cards to winners of a special lottery, entitling them, their spouses and children, to permanent residence in the U.S. Actually, the Department first draws about 100,000 names, but narrows it down to 50,000 because some applicants cannot be found or are later determined to be ineligible. Because the electronic filing system does not require the actual signature of the applicant, it is now possible for a person in the U.S. to submit an application on behalf of a friend or relative in Iran. That's a major step forward. Better yet, if they have a major credit card, they can sign up on their own in Iran.
Most Iranians are familiar with the annual U.S. State Department's Green Card Lottery or more officially referred to as the Diversity Visa Lottery. However, what some people don't know is that this year, the new application process can only be accepted on line at www.dvlottery.state.gov. There is no cost and anyone with Internet access can try to complete the application prior to the December 31, 2003 deadline. But there is a catch. The new on line application and photo submission process is a bit tricky and an applicant is automatically disqualified if the entry contains any errors.
Where can Iranians turn to for last minute filing assistance for the lottery? It turns out that the growing Iranian-American community has caught the attention of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, a law firm headquartered in West Virginia, established in 1913 with over 150 attorneys. They have created a lottery filing service that is much easier to navigate and understand than the State Department's website. To make things easier for the Iranian community, the firm has established www.IranianVisaLottery.com. The Steptoe & Johnson filing service will:
a) Check for an applicant's basic eligibility,
b) Check all documentation,
c) Check, reformat, resize and scan the required photos to meet the State Department's exacting standards,
d) Upload and submit the application to the U.S. State Department,
e) Obtain the names of extra contacts, so that winners using the service will be sure to be notified, unlike the case where a person applies on his own, and has left only one address for the State Department, and
f) Provide a copy of the receipt from the State Department
The filing service fees are $45 for an individual (and another $30 for an additional application for a husband or wife to double the couple's chances). Why do we need a paid filing service when the State Department's website is free? Because Steptoe & Johnson can do what the State Department cannot, as follows:
1. Make certain that your application is being submitted correctly for consideration in the lottery. Last year, the State Department informs us that almost 3 million paper applications were submitted incorrectly by applicants and promptly rejected. Because the Department notified only winners that their applications were even received, the rejected hopefuls never realized that their applications did not make it into the lottery.
2. Steptoe & Johnson have been involved in the development of an electronic filing process for over a year and first met with the State Department in June 2002. They developed an electronic filing prototype even before the State Department, which they demonstrated at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC over a year ago. The firm's website at www.IranianVisaLottery.com is designed to help you make certain that your application is submitted correctly and will be considered in the lottery. The State Department has neither the staff nor the time to oversee each application to this detail.
3. If you win, Steptoe & Johnson will track you down when the lottery winners are notified between April and July of 2004. Whereas the State Department can only write the successful applicant when the drawing is held and if an applicant has moved or the notice is lost in the mail, the Department simply moves to the next person. Every year, invariably, some people move or change their submitted contact information and miss their once in a life time opportunity to secure a green card. Steptoe & Johnson asks its on line applicants to provide the names of several other people who will always know where you are, so if you win, the firm can and will find you.
4. As a special service to the Iranian community, Steptoe & Johnson will provide one free hour of consultation if you win the lottery. Regardless, you still retain the option to use any immigration attorney of your choice.
5. With all the above critical services and the potential benefits at stake, the Steptoe & Johnson lottery filing fee is truly nominal. In comparison, I think my Starbucks expenses last month added up to more than $50 and I have nothing to show for it.
Iranians are on the eligible list for this lottery, while natives of several other countries are not, such as: Canada, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. According to the State Department, last year, 7 million people properly entered the lottery and 110,000 winning names were drawn, of which 1,431 were from Iran. While there are no general statistics on chances, geographic breakdowns of winners suggest that an Iranian had about 1 chance in 50 to win last year, which was doubled to 1 in 25 when both a husband and wife entered.
Since this is the first year that the State Department will only accept on line applications, many immigration authorities expect that the number of prospective applicants will significantly drop due to lack of Internet access worldwide, incorrect applications submitted, and other variables. What this means for Iranians is that with fewer applicants, your chances of winning are likely to be far better this year. Of course there are no guarantees, but this might be your best year to enter the lottery. An interesting aspect of the lottery is that a married couple can enter the lottery twice, even if only one is from an eligible country like Iran. This is because the second spouse can "charge" his or her application to the country of the spouse from the eligible country.
The Basic requirements for entering
the lottery are:
a) Person must be native of an eligible country (Iranians are eligible),
b) Person must be at least age 18,
c) Person must have high school education or equivalent OR have two years of qualifying work experience (most people meet the high school requirement),
d) If the person's name is drawn, he or she must meet all the usual eligibility requirements for permanent residence (not a criminal, etc.)
Most Iranians are skeptical of various intermediary services. In fact, there are many fly by night and fraudulent firms offering to help people apply to the lottery. As with any new service, the buyer should be aware. That's why you should conduct your own due diligence by learning more about Steptoe & Johnson's reputation and history. Once you do, you'll quickly learn that Steptoe & Johnson is for real. They have taken an active interest in offering an invaluable service to the Iranian-American community right when it counts. Steptoe & Johnson has long been concerned about fraudulent firms and scams connected to the Diversity Visa Lottery program. Recently, the firm even worked with government officials to identify and shut down several illegal operators that were trying to prey on the best hopes of prospective lottery applicants. That makes the firm even more qualified to create a system, recognized by the State Department, whereby your application will be accurately processed and promptly considered in the lottery.
To help you get through the on line application process, Steptoe & Johnson offers a 1-877-WIN-VISA phone number with recorded messages in English and Farsi. You can even leave a voicemail in Farsi and someone will get back to you within 48 hours. In addition, you may read basic lottery application instructions in Farsi at www.IranianVisaLottery.com. Also look for the public announcement on Jam-E-Jam TV in San Diego, an introductory video in Farsi on www.IranianTrade.org and www.IranianVisaLottery.com, as well as announcements in other Iranian websites and media. For more information about Steptoe & Johnson please visit their website at www.Steptoelaw.com. To sign up for the Diversity Visa Lottery, please be sure to complete the on line application at www.IranianVisaLottery.com by December 28, 2003!
Shahriar Afshar is a public relations consultant for Steptoe & Johnson and President/Founder of the Iranian Trade Association based in San Diego, CA. He may be reached at Afshar@IranianVisaLottery.com.
... Payvand News - 12/5/03 ... --