Arts, Culture & Media

What it is like to win the green card lottery

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The "diversity visa lottery" currently allows 50,000 people a year to win green cards. 

Since this week’s terror attack in New York, attention has focused on how Sayfullo Saipov came to be in the US. Saipov was admitted under the US diversity visa lottery — better known as the green card lottery — a scheme which lets around 50,000 people every year into the country, selected at random and vetted for police records. 

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced that he would be taking action to cancel the lottery — although he initially called it the "diversary" lottery. 

The lottery is unique in the developed world — no other country selects its future citizens in this way. But for the hundreds of thousands of people who have benefitted from the program over the years, the lottery still serves an essential role. 

Abdi Nor Iftin is one of those people. He was living as a Somali refugee in Kenya when he won a ticket on the lottery — and he now lives in Portland, Maine.

He told PRI's The World that the lottery gave him an opportunity that no other visa program could have offered. Student and work visas are realistically only open to those who already have money — money to pay for education or employment qualifications. But talented young people without those opportunities who want to live the American dream only have the option of the lottery.

"We just want to make a life —  go to school, become taxpayers and most importantly become American citizens," Abdi says. "I applied so that I could come to the US and live the American Dream." 

Since Trump's announcement that he would be canceling the lottery, Abdi says lottery winners from across the world have been sharing their concerns about the future.

"You can't imagine how many text messages and friend requests I have received from people who are freaked out," Abdi said. "What's going on? Is Trump canceling it? What's going to happen? Sometimes I look at myself and think that I am the luckiest man on Earth because I came here before Trump was elected."