Whenever I visit the US, I am constantly surprised at how little most Americans know of the various options available to foreigners seeking to become US citizens--and especially of the 'Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery', usually known as the 'Green Card Lottery'.
The lottery is the subject of both obsessive debate and elaborate conspiracy theories in much of Africa--which is hardly surprising as it is considered by many to be the golden key to limitless economic opportunity. But few of the ordinary people I meet in the US seem to know or care about it.
For example, there were 6,4m applications received in 2008 for the 50,000 slots which are available each year for immigration to the US under this programme. Of these, 40% were from Africa.
A great part of what drives many middle-class people from poor countries all over the world to try to move to the US is the belief that it is a country in which--if you are willing to work hard--you can fulfil your dream of owning a home with a nice car or two parked in the garage, even if your job and your income in the US places you in the lower middle class. Their conviction is that there is a better standard of living to be enjoyed if you are relatively poor in a very rich country than if you comparatively well off in a really poor country. So what are these conspiracy theories that argue against applying for the Green Card Lottery? The principal one that I have heard alleges that far from being a means of providing an opportunity for legal immigration to the US, the green card lottery is a device for getting Africans who have a strong desire to move permanently to the US to reveal this intention. In other words, that it is actually a mechanism for pre-empting illegal immigration to the US.
The suspicion here is that if you have ever entered for this lottery, then when you fill in the application forms for any routine US visa--what are generally termed the 'nonimmigrant visas', such as a student visa, tourist visa or even for a visa sought for medical purposes--you will be wasting your time in making that application, as you are sure to be turned down.
The question posed by the conspiracy theorists is this: Having already made it abundantly clear by that earlier application for the Green Card Lottery that you have the specific intention of living permanently in the US, why should anyone now believe that you would return home after having set foot on...