State Department Ordered to Process Immigrant Visas for FY 2020 Diversity Visa Winners

On April 22, 2020, a Presidential Proclamation suspended entry for 60 days of most new immigrants coming from abroad, purportedly to reduce job competition during the COVID-19 induced economic downturn.   On June 22, 2020, a further Presidential Proclamation extended that entry bar through December 31, 2020.

Following these proclamations, U.S. consulates refused to schedule visa interviews for intending immigrants, including those who had been selected in the FY 2020 Diversity Visa lottery.

On September 4, 2020, a federal court ordered the State Department to schedule immigrant visa interviews for FY 2020 Diversity Visa lottery winners, who will lose their ability to immigrate if they are not issued their visas by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2020.   Immigrant visas are valid for travel for six months after issuance.  So, lottery winners issued  their immigrant visas by September 30th would be able to immigrate to the U.S. in early 2021 if the entry bar is not extended beyond the end of 2020.

Due to a quarantine order for nationals of certain countries, the State Department indicated it would not comply with the federal court’s order for Diversity Visa winners from those countries.  On September 14, 2020, the federal court amended its order to compel the State Department to process the immigrant visa applications of Diversity Lottery winners regardless of the quarantine order, since they would still be able to quarantine after receiving their immigrant visas.

The vast majority  (98%) of those eligible to immigrate following selection in the Diversity Visa lottery enter the U.S. from abroad after immigrant visa interviews at U.S. consulates in their home countries.  At the time of the September 4th court order, only 7,000 individuals had managed to immigrate through  the FY 2020 Diversity Visa lottery, of the 50,000 visas available, largely due to COVID-19 related closures of U.S. consulates abroad.

The court order requires the State Department to act on the remaining winners’ visa applications by September 30th.    On September 17, 2020, the State Department directed the U.S. consulates that have reopened following their COVID-19 shutdowns to comply with the court’s order and prioritize scheduling Diversity Visa winners for their immigrant visa interviews.  It’s doubtful that the State Department can process the remaining diversity immigrant visa applications in that time frame, and it appears that Diversity Visa winners in countries where the U.S. consulates have not fully reopened may be out of luck.

Thousands of lucky FY 2020 Diversity Visa winners are unfortunately likely to find that they were not so lucky after all, as their dreams of immigrating to the U.S. evaporate when the fiscal year ends at midnight of September 30th.  This will be a loss not only for them, but for the U.S., which will lose their future contributions to our communities and economy.