Nepali DV lottery winners dejected as visa eligibility deadline nearsAs per US law, the winners must apply for visas by September 30.
Bhim Kunwar, 24, from Tikapur of Kailali, was thrilled when he won the US Diversity Visa (DV) lottery in his second attempt, in May 2020. Although at that time the country was under a nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kunwar was hopeful that things would become normal and his visa application would be processed.
“After winning the DV lottery, I had started dreaming of my future in the US. My case number was below 3,000, so I had a better chance of getting selected. However, due to the embassy closure, the application process has stalled,” said Kunwar, who lives with two brothers, a sister and their parents in Tikapur. He was a bachelor’s second year student but quit his studies after winning the lottery.
Kunwar is hopeful that the embassy will reopen soon and his visa process will start immediately. “This year has been very frustrating and depressing for me and my family, but we have not lost hope because there are still three months left,” Kunwar told the Post over the phone from Kailali.
Each year, the US awards as many as 55,000 green cards to immigrants from countries around the world including Nepal through its diversity visa lottery programme in a bid to promote diversity in the US.
However, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many diversity visa winners have been unable to cash in on the opportunity. By law, diversity visa eligibility expires at the end of the US fiscal year, on September 30. But as the pandemic has shut the US consular services, the clock is ticking on Kunwar and many other winners.
Nirmal is another DV lottery winner who has been waiting for the final interview at the US embassy, Kathmandu. “I had applied with my wife and I won the lottery in my very first attempt. We were very happy and excited,” said Nirmal, who wished to identify himself only by his first name.
“It looks like the Covid-19 pandemic is not ending anytime soon, so the embassy should start the interview process soon,” Nirmal told the Post on the phone. “We are ready to follow all the safety protocols and provide a negative PCR report while appearing for the interview,” said Nirmal.
According to Anna Richey-Allen, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Kathmandu, their office will remain closed for all routine services as long as Kathmandu remains under lockdown.
“Once we are able to reopen, we will begin processing the backlog of immigrant visa applications in a manner that safeguards the health and safety of our personnel, applicants, and the public,” Allen told the Post in an email interview.
“We will prioritise immigrant visa applicants whose appointments were cancelled due to the lockdown and resume immigrant visa services following the guidance established by the US Department of State.”
However, as September 30 is just about four months away and no visa interview has been conducted to date, hundreds of Nepali DV lottery winners are in fear of losing their possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance to build a life in America.
When the Post asked about the possibility of the embassy extending the visa application deadline for Nepali DV lottery winners, spokesperson Allen said the DV-2021 winners may only be interviewed in the fiscal year 2021 or by September 30. According to her, the winners may re-enter the Diversity Visa program in future years.
“We acknowledge the stress and hardships all visa petitioners and applicants have borne during the past year of the Embassy’s reduced operating capacity as a result of COVID-19. Our measures have been necessary to protect health and safety and to comply with local requirements in support of the Government of Nepal’s efforts to control the pandemic, as well as COVID-related limitations on travel or visa issuance,” said Allen.
“Prioritising family reunification takes prominence under the United States’ immigration policy and law, as expressed in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The US Congress has specifically set forth that the [US State] Department must adopt a policy of prioritising immediate relative visa applicants and K-1 fiancées of US citizens, followed by family preference immigrant visa applicants,” Allen told the Post.
Amid the fear of losing the opportunity, many people have come to social media with hashtags #SaveDiversityVisa and #wakeupusembassy. “It has become a year of patience and hope. It has become a year of dreaming for DV selectees. One year felt like decades. We hope our @USEmbassyNepal #WakeUpUSembassyNepal consider us and start our interviews ASAP. We can't see our dreams shattered like this. SAVE #DV2021,” wrote a twitter user.
The embassy closure has not only affected DV lottery winners but also many students, who want to pursue higher studies in the US.
Frustrated at the embassy closure, a student from Nepal, Nischal Katuwal, launched an online petition titled “The US embassy in Nepal needs to open visa interview slots for F1 visa candidates.”
The petition has been signed by over 3, 405 people.
“The US embassy has been closed for F1 visa interviews since March 2020 and all candidates who were applying for Fall 2020/Spring 2021 had to defer their admissions to Fall 2021. We sacrificed a year in our education and some of us even lost scholarships to promote safety and comply with COVID-19 guidelines. However, when the embassy reopened with interview dates in 2021 with very few slots, they canceled appointments with no information about when we would be able to book interview dates again,” states the petition.
When the Post asked Allen if they are planning to conduct visa interviews virtually, Allen said that under the US law and regulations, applicants for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas are required to appear in person before a consular officer except in limited circumstances where they qualify for an interview waiver.
“Applicants who are renewing visas may see if they qualify to apply for renewal without an interview by reviewing the requirements,” Allen told the Post.
According to Allen, the US Embassy in Kathmandu will restart visa-related work as soon as they are able to reopen after the government of Nepal lifts the lockdown in Kathmandu and allows applicants to travel for their interview.
Meanwhile, Nirmal feels the government of Nepal should intervene to help them. “The Minister for Foreign Affairs should take up our concerns seriously and ask the embassy to start the interviews,” he said.
“Many of us are in mental stress as our US dreams are shattering in front of our eyes.”