The lottery, which is open to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States including the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, represents many people’s only chance to live and work legally in the U.S.
In recent years, applying to the lottery has become an entirely online process, leading to an explosion of websites that offer to help people with their applications – for a fee.
Typing “DV lottery” into a Google search reveals an array of Web sites that say they will submit participants’ lottery applications for fees ranging from $40 to $250. These services are perfectly legal, but are they necessary?
“I think it’s despicable,” according to Siobhan Dennehy, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Woodside.
“The government has made it a fast, free and user-friendly process, but people are intimidated by computers. They’ll use these services because the fees are not astronomical. People are technophobes and when popups appear advertising these companies, they just use them. I would say use of these services is most prevalent in rural areas where technology isn’t as widespread.”
Official lottery applications can be submitted at www.dvlottery.state.gov. The process is free of charge and requires applicants to fill out personal details such as name, age, address, country of birth and details of any spouse or children. Applicants must also submit a digital photograph, which must be exactly 300 by 300 pixels or 240 by 320 pixels in size.
Dennehy thinks many people resort to using lottery application services because it is not clear where they can submit an official application.
“It’s particularly rampant in Ireland,” she said.
“I’ve been forwarded emails from people in Ireland, where these services are frequently advertised in Irish newspapers. I’d love to raise awareness amongst people in Ireland about this,” Dennehy added. “I’ve been surprised by the number of people at home who’d used them. Perhaps the government could support it with some local advertising in local papers in countries where there are traditionally high numbers of applicants.”
Said Patricia Grogan, executive director of the Aisling Community Center in Yonkers: “There are feelings of despondency and apathy in the Irish community when it comes to immigration. People are very apathetic. They don’t believe that it’s going to happen. They’re desperate, and when people are desperate it gives rise to services like these.”
Each year, the Aisling Center assists several hundred people in applying to the DV lottery through the Department of State Web site. Grogan was critical of the official application process.
“With the website process its not as easy as it seems. It’s expensive if you want do it yourself,” she said.
“You take a digital photo, then you have to resize the photograph. But if you don’t have Adobe Photoshop you can’t do that. You need a digital camera and Adobe Photoshop, which costs around $700.”
A spokesperson for the Department of State was not available for comment.
The Federal Trade Commission urges consumers to watch out for websites that claim to be affiliated with the U.S. government, and to seek proof of their applications.
“One person contacted me having used a company that didn’t even give them a receipt,” according to Dennehy.
“That should tell you immediately that something’s not right,” she said.
For more information about the DV lottery, visit www.travel.state.gov or www.unitedstatesvisas.gov, or call the State Department’s Visa Services’ Public Inquiries Branch at 202-663-1225. To submit an official lottery application, log on to www.dvlottery.state.gov.