State Dept. Considering 9,036 'Diversity Visa' Applicants from 'Countries of Interest'--Whose Citizens Pose Higher Terror Risk

By Elizabeth Harrington | October 24, 2011 | 5:17 PM EDT

Yemenis celebrate the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. (AP Photo.)

( --  As part of its 2012 Diversity Visa Lottery, the U.S. State Department is considering 9,036 applicants from nations that have been designated as “countries of interest" by the Obama administration because their citizens, and people travelling from them or through them are deemed a heightened terrorist risk to the United States

While the final winners for 2012 have not been announced, in 2010--the latest year for which the final Diversity Visa awards have been published--there were 3,988 such visas issued to persons from countries of interest.

The “countries of interest,” as categorized by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), are Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

President Obama first announced the "countries of interest" category at a Jan. 5, 2010 press briefing about two weeks after a Nigerian terrorist had tried to detonate an underwear bomb aboard a Northwest Airlines flight headed into Detroit.

"As of yesterday, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is requiring enhanced screening for passengers flying into the United States from, or flying through, nations on our list of State Sponsors of Terror or other countries of interest," Obama said.

In a January 10, 2010 announcement on “countries of interest,” the TSA said it “is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world who holds a passport issued by or is traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening. The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S. bound international flights.”

The four states sponsors of terrorism, as designated by the U.S. Department of State, are Iran, Cuba, Sudan and Syria.

U.S. troops on patrol in Afghanistan. (PA Photo.)

In the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery, an annual program that started in 1994, the State Department awards 50,000 permanent resident visas to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The applicants for the 2012 visa lottery must complete their applications quickly and then the State Department will fill its 50,000 slots. (Those initial winners have received their applications and the State Department is reviewing them as they come in.)

The State Department says: "Once the total 50,000 visa numbers have been used, the program for fiscal year 2012 will end. Selected applicants who do not receive visas by September 30, 2012 will derive no further benefit from their DV-2012 registration."

For the program in 2012, there are 9,036 applicants from “countries of interest” whose completed applications will be reviewed by the State Department for the potential awarding of permanent resident visas. The number of applications distributed per country of interest for 2012 is as follows: Afghanistan, 109; Algeria, 1,799; Iraq, 153; Lebanon, 274; Libya, 136; Nigeria, 6,024; Saudi Arabia, 217; Somalia, 175; and Yemen, 149.

Pakistan was ineligible to participate in the 2012 program because it has sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the last five years, and therefore did not have low enough immigration rates to qualify, according to the DV instructions issued by the State Department.

The latest data available (from 2010) on the actual number of diversity visas issued to people from “Countries of Interest” that year show the following:

--Afghanistan, 66 (out of 345) = 19.13%

--Algeria, 797 (out of 1,957) = 40.72%

--Iraq, 37 (out of 142) = 26.05%

--Lebanon, 46 (out of 181) = 25.41%

--Libya, 70 (out of 152) = 46.05%

--Nigeria, 2,834 (out of 6,006) = 47.18%

--Pakistan ineligible since 2002 (2,484 in 2001)

--Saudi Arabia, 34 (out of 104) = 32.69%

--Somalia, 71 (out of 229) = 31.00%

--Yemen, 33 (out of 72) = 45.83%

Total in 2010: 3,988

Map of Sudan, Africa. (AP Photo.)

At a briefing in late September to announce the opening registration for the 2013 Diversity Visa lottery, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David T. Donahue said, “The program has always been under scrutiny, as all immigration laws are in the United States. Our Congress looks very carefully.”

One member of Congress looking into the Diversity Visa lottery is Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). Earlier this year, the congressman reintroduced the Security and Fairness Enhancement (SAFE) for America Act, which would eliminate the program.

“The visa lottery program poses a national security threat,” wrote Rep. Goodlatte in a press release announcing the reintroduction of the SAFE Act, in February 2011.

Goodlatte cites Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet as “an example of the system gone awry.”  Hedayet, an Egyptian national, was a beneficiary of the Diversity Visa lottery. He killed two people and wounded three during a shooting spree at Los Angeles International Airport in July of 2002.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton smiles while she waits to Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for their meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. Clinton is leading an unusually large U.S. delegation to Pakistan for two days of talk with civilian and military leaders who have resisted previous U.S. demands to take harder tack against militants who attach U.S. soldiers and interests in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

A House Judiciary Committee press release announcing its approval of the SAFE Act in July, stated, “For the 2011 program, 1,842 Iranians, 553 Sudanese, and 32 Syrians were issued diversity visas.” The Act has not been voted on in the full House. Iran, Sudan, and Syria are state sponsors of terrorism.

The preliminary winnings for the 2011 lottery recorded Iran with 2,819 registered with the lottery. Therefore, more than half of those initially registered Iranian applicants received permanent resident visas.  It has yet to be determined how many of the over 4,400 registered applicants for the 2012 program from Iran will be given visas.

“The DV Program is a terrorist’s gamble,” said Janice L. Kephart, director of National Security Policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, during a testimony before a House Judiciary Subcommittee Committee on national security vulnerabilities associated with Diversity Visas, in April.

“But if it works, it is an infiltration tactic with little oversight, a guaranteed visa, and permanent residency whether already in the United States, or seeking entry from abroad,” Kephart said.

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