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Thousands of US 'diversity visa' lottery winners launch lawsuit against Biden administration

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A Turkish police officer stands guard during a protest outside the US embassy in Ankara - one of the locations slow to process diversity visas - in Turkey, April 27, 2021.
A Turkish police officer stands guard during a protest outside the US embassy in Ankara - one of the locations slow to process diversity visas - in Turkey, April 27, 2021.   -   Copyright  Burhan Ozbilici/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Thousands of US "diversity visa" winners from around the world have launched a lawsuit against the Biden administration over fears that they will lose the chance to move to America after being told their visa applications will not be prioritised due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement published on Twitter, Curtis Morrison, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, announced the lawsuit, asserting that the complaint had been filed on behalf of more than 24,000 people based in 141 different countries.

"Excited to announce we have filed complaint for our 24,089 #GoodluckvBiden plaintiffs in the District Court for District of Columbia," he said.

The lawsuit comes as thousands of 2021 diversity visa winners fear they will lose a possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance to build a life in America due to the US's refusal to process their time-limited visa applications.

"I applied for the programme [after visiting as a] Summer Work and Travel Student in Wisconsin, the US. I loved the US and I wanted to spend the rest of my life there," one plaintiff in the lawsuit, a 2021 diversity visa winner from Turkey, told Euronews.

"I won, but it doesn't feel like it was a 'win' right now," the plaintiff, who spoke on the condition of anonymity over concerns speaking out could affect her visa application, said.

"It was a lottery, but we have to take part in a lawsuit to be a 'winner'," they said. "We're still in our homes and did not have a single e-mail [or] interview yet. It feels like our American dream is fading away."

Each year, the US awards as many as 55,000 green cards to immigrants from countries around the world 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 struggled to cash in on the prize due to Trump-era policies blocking certain visa holders, including diversity visa beneficiaries - from entering the US indefinitely.

The diversity visa comes with strict time restrictions and if you miss the deadline to get approved, you can lose the opportunity to move to the US under the programme completely.

Already, thousands of 2020 diversity visa winners who were told their chances of entering the US had expired are still battling the US government in court for the country to reverse its decision.

And now, despite having been told they had won the 2021 diversity visa lottery, more than 24,000 winners fear they too will lose their chance to cash in on a life-changing prize.

The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit allege that they have been blocked from moving forward with their visa applications due to US consulates around the world refusing to give them interviews, despite the tight deadlines of the diversity programme.

They also say a recent State Department decision making diversity visas a lowest-tier priority for application processing will make it impossible for them to obtain their visas in time - a possibility the State Department has itself acknowledged.

"The Department values the diversity visa program and is making every effort to process as many diversity visa cases as possible, consistent with other priorities, despite the severe operational constraints and backlog resulting from the COVID pandemic," the State Department says on its website.

"However, as a result of COVID the number of visas issued in lower-priority preference categories or in such programs as the diversity visa program likely will not approach the statutory ceiling in Fiscal Year 2021," it states.

Under the State Department's current guidance, diversity visas have been made a "tier four" priority, with the State Department acknowledging that "many embassies and consulates" are already struggling with a "significant backlog of all categories of immigrant visas".

The new lawsuit filed on Monday argues that the US should be prioritising diversity visa winners as much as any other visa applicant.

"Congress found that the broader mix of nationalities that comes to define America, the better America becomes equipped to understand and relate to the diversity of the world abroad," it states.

"There is no better antidote to the challenges of globalisation than to attract the 'self-selected strivers' from every corner of the globe," it says.