1:00 P.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Our briefer today is David T. Donahue, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services in our Bureau of Consular Affairs. Without further ado, I’ll give him the floor.
MR. DONAHUE: Good afternoon and thank you very much for coming to the Foreign Press Center today. I’m here to talk to you about the 2013 Diversity Visa Program which opens for registrations next Tuesday, October 4th, at noon and will close on Saturday, November 5th at noon, Eastern Daylight Time in both cases.
There will be – as last year and for a number of years, there will again be 50,000 total visas available in the – what we are calling the Fiscal Year 2013 Diversity Visa Program. There are a couple changes this year to the countries that can participate, and before I go any further, let me say that all of this information is available at www.dvlottery.state.gov, which has full information about the DV-2013 Diversity Visa Program.
The main changes as far as country participation this year are that South Sudan and Poland are added as participants this year in the 2013 program. And because of high rates of immigration to the U.S., Bangladesh is no longer a qualifying country and not be a participating country in the 2013 program. The law requires that countries that have over 50,000 immigrants during the previous five years are no longer eligible to participate in the program. And Bangladesh, we’re glad to say, has a large number of immigrants coming to the United States now on an annual basis, and for the last five years exceeded the 50,000 limit that puts them out of the program.
Once again, this year, all entries will be submitted electronically using the electronic DV entry form that can be found, again, on www.dvlottery.state.gov. We will use this process to notify entrants of their selection and provide information about the application and interview process. Starting May 1st, 2012, DV-2013 entrants can use the confirmation number provided when they register to check online through entrant status check at the dvlottery.state.gov address to see if their entry was selected. All DV-2013 entrants should make sure to save their confirmation numbers until at least June 30th, 2013, as embassies cannot provide a list of selectees. So it’s very important when they register that they keep and save and keep in a safe place their entry number, their registration number.
Those who are selected for further processing will not be mailed an interview notification letter. Selectees will be notified of their interview date, time, and lodging and location of – by logging onto the entrance status check function. We are going to keep this as an entirely electronic registration notification and interviewing scheduling process. And the reason behind that is because – is to combat fraud. The State Department wants to protect the interests of legitimate applicants for the DV program against fraud and malfeasance, which have been a problem of this program from the very beginning. Combating fraud remains the number one goal of the program in terms of how we administer the program.
By using only online notification process, we are placing control of the information flow in the hands of legitimate customers only. An entrant who retains his or her confirmation number retains control of the entire application process from beginning to end. It’s like their password or like their bank account number; they should protect it that way. Anyone else who has control can take actions on their behalf if they know about it or they don’t know about it. It’s also important in the registration process that they are very much involved, hopefully can do it themselves, because the information must be entirely accurate. If there are any part of the registration, particularly names of dependents are not included in the registration process, they can be disqualified. So it’s very important that the applicants themselves take charge of the entire operation. If they are going to use someone to help them, they should be with that person and they should be there when the application is submitted and when the confirmation number comes back so that they can, again, maintain control of their process.
The other thing that’s very important, and we invite the press to help us in getting the word out, as we do every year, there are no fees to enter the program again this year. There are fees for the immigrant visa that will be processed, and those are paid at the U.S. embassy or consulate where they apply for their visa, or those who are adjusting status in the United States will be given instructions through the entry status check function on where they submit that fee. But there are no other fees; there’s no fees in the registration process. Applicants should avoid any kind of site to ask for fees ahead of time and be very careful of these facilitators. The only place the DV applicants will be asked to pay money, as I said, is at the embassy or the consulate.
Regarding the fees, applicants who are selected for further processing will be asked to pay a 305 immigrant visa fee, $440 diversity visa fee, and a $74 immigrant security surcharge, for a total of $819 at the time of their application. Let me add also that there are no other benefits that come with the Diversity Visa Program. What this does is provides a way for a person to enter into the immigrant visa process. Most people enter the process through the petition process, either through an employer or a family member filing a petition for them. This just takes care of that first process of having someone file for you. All other parts of the immigrant visa process, including all the security checks – again, there are fees associated with it, and all the requirements to show that you’re eligible for a visa, including that you are not ineligible because you’ll become a public charge or for a criminal background or anything else that we would normally – would normally apply to any other immigrant visa applicant.
With that, I’m glad to take any questions.
MODERATOR: All right. Please wait for one of my colleagues to give you the microphone, and please state your name and news organization, please.
QUESTION: Zoltan Mikes, World Business Press Online, Slovakia, and I have two questions. The first one is: There were some troubles, as I heard this year, with the process, so – computer failure or something like this. Can you specify, was it human error? And if so, how much qualified are the people who were working with these applications?
And the second question is: I heard also that there were some efforts from the Republican Party to shut down the lottery, or from the part of the politicians in this party. Is there some end of the lottery in sight? And if you can, can you comment on these efforts of these politicians? Thank you very much.
MR. DONAHUE: Sure, I’ll be glad to answer. Thank you for the questions. The problems we had last year were that after we had run the lottery, the selection process, which randomly – we use a computer-generated random selection process, and we also have a percentage that are allocated to different regions in the world. After we ran that process and after we had posted those who had qualified under that first part, the selection process, five days after we found out – we had selected that, we found out that we had made a human error. It was a human error, a programming error, as we announced last year.
And we have certainly been diligent in reviewing why that happened. We’ve done a full review of the process in cooperation with our inspector general at the State Department. The problem was found and has been corrected, and we have done some tests and will certainly, before we post our new selectees in May, on May 1st, we will all review to make sure that it is – that the selectees represent a random selection.
QUESTION: So it was a human error?
MR. DONAHUE: It was a human error in the programming. And then the – as far as the program, the program has always been under scrutiny, as all immigration laws are in the United States. Our Congress looks very carefully. They – the Constitution gives them full authority over immigration laws in the United States, and this comes under their legislation, and certainly, Congress is doing due diligence in looking at all of the immigration laws, and this is one of them that some members of Congress have been looking at.
QUESTION: Is there any decision?
MR. DONAHUE: No, there’s – there has been – there have been no changes in this law this year.
MODERATOR: Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Dmitry Kirsanov with ITAR-TASS. Thanks for coming over to brief us, sir. I have a sort of follow-up on the question from my Slovakian colleague and a second question aside from that.
Can you give guarantees, solid guarantees that something like that won’t happen again this year with the lottery? That’s part one. And aside from that, I just wanted to ask you for an update on the U.S.-Russian agreement on nonimmigrant visas issues. As you are aware of, it was announced mid-July by Minister Lavrov and Secretary Clinton in Washington, D.C. At that time, they said the agreement – the State Department said this agreement will go into effect after an exchange of diplomatic notes in Moscow. What is the status of the agreement now? When will it be signed? And why reporters were excluded from that?
MR. DONAHUE: Okay. I suppose I’d say as much of a guarantee as you can guarantee anything in this world. We believe we’re doing everything we can, all due diligence, to be sure that we do not have a problem or any kind of problem with this lottery program. We’ve done this program for, I believe, 16 – 15 years, and this was the first time we’ve had any problem with it and we regretted that, but we certainly have looked at it very closely and have done everything to prevent a recurrence.
On the U.S.-Russian agreement, we are working with our Russian counterparts, and I believe they’re working your – with the Duma to get full clearances so that we can have that exchange of notes. And we look forward to the – to implementing the agreement. And there was press at the event that I was at, so --
QUESTION: No, no, I mean the I-type visas, visas for reporters. Journalists are not included in this agreement as far as I know, only --
MR. DONAHUE: Oh.
QUESTION: Yeah, only tourists and – what was the rationale for that?
MR. DONAHUE: The agreement focused on, I think, our B1/B2 visas. I may have to get back to you on that one.
MODERATOR: I’d like to open the floor to our counterparts at the New York Foreign Press Center.
QUESTION: Hi, it’s Tom Deptula from the Polish Newsweek. I think my colleagues asked already two questions about DV-2012, so I will not ask any more about that event, but I got another question. It looks like government is collecting a huge amount of data about the participants, up to 15 millions. What are you going to do with those data after the lottery?
MR. DONAHUE: After the lottery, the data – when it’s completed, we move on to the next. We keep records because – in case there’s any need to go back to look at what happened, but we don’t really do anything with that data.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Hi. Alex Grigoryev, Voice of America, Russian Service. Would you like to provide a little bit more detailed information about the quota size for Russia, former Soviet Union, how many visas filled, people from these countries? Thank you.
MR. DONAHUE: Okay. As far as visas or as far as the number who entered the lottery? The number who entered the lottery, you’re interested in? I do have a number here for Russia, I believe. In 2012, there were 84,000 entrants, about that many derivatives, so for – about 167,000 total from Russia.
MODERATOR: Sure. Please.
QUESTION: Christoph Marschall, from the German daily Der Tagesspiegel. I have a question. If I understand correctly, the criteria for which country – from which country you are applying is connected to your birthplace, not the citizenship you are holding at the moment you’re applying. So if there are couples from – with a different national criteria, are they both allowed to apply in order to improve their opportunities, or is it one application per household, or how do you deal with that?
MR. DONAHUE: Okay. There are a number of exceptions – a few exceptions, I should say, to the birthplace rule. For instance, you can – there are some opportunities that are on the website about alternate chargeability for where your parents were born. You can sometimes use that chargeability. You – and if you have two people who are – who have a chargeability that they can use from their parents, they can both – for spouses, they can each file in the program.
Now, you can only have one application per person. And in fact, one of the things we do in our security for the program is – and we do very carefully – we use all means we can to disqualify anyone who submits more than one application. But two spouses who have areas of qualification, they can both apply.
MODERATOR: We have another question from the New York Foreign Press Center.
QUESTION: Yeah. Good afternoon. This is Shehabuddin Kisslu from Bangla News 24. My question is: How many DV visa was issued to Bangladeshi DV winners, last year’s? And in terms of diversity program, as we know, there are a lot of – more than 11 million non-documented skilled workers living in the United States. Do you have anything on that issue, that – whether you are going to consider those people inside living instead of – United States instead of bringing them from around the world?
And will you kindly say that is there – will there be any consideration for reentering to the DV visa program for the country like Bangladesh because of the human error that happened in 2012 DV lottery?
MR. DONAHUE: The – first of all, for Bangladesh last year – and this is – these are entrants; these aren’t visas that were issued, but there were 7,667,000 entrants, about 895,000 derivatives, for a total of 8 million – 8.5 million total Bangladeshis who entered the program last year. We have – the rules are set by Congress. The rules clearly state that they – the country of birth or one of the exceptions that are in the rule apply here, so this program will not be – people who were born in Bangladesh who are here and want to complete their status as a resident here in the United States will not be able to enter the program unless they meet one of the few exceptions that are in the rule. And there will not – there’s no plan to make any exceptions for the error last year.
There were, as the numbers show and will show throughout the 2012 program, many Bangladeshis – we don’t have the numbers for the 2012; we just started – we will start processing next month. But the numbers will show that many Bangladeshis probably – once again, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not the largest recipients of immigrant visas through this program, for the 2012 program, despite the problems last year.
MODERATOR: Any question from this side?
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My name is Bingru with Phoenix TV, Hong Kong. I don’t think China is qualified for this program, so my question is now regarding the --
MR. DONANUE: But Hong Kong is.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) My first question is regarding the Chinese journalist visa. You may be aware of several congressmen, they introduced the act. The idea is the State Department would be able to issue only as many visa to Chinese state media workers as China issues visa to the U.S. – American journalists. What is your assessment of this visa quota imbalance, and what is your response to the Congress act?
The second part of my question is: Are you considering to ease visa for Chinese tourists and businesspeople, considering the economic contribution? Thank you.
MR. DONAHUE: Those are a couple of good questions. I’m not aware of the legislation that you referred to. I don’t know if – none of our staff is, either. But we – currently, there are no limits on Chinese journalists applying for journalist visas. And there are no limits for other visas – students, for visitors, for tourists. We’re very proud of the efforts we’ve been making in China. We now have – we just are very close, if we haven’t crossed the million visa mark for Chinese coming to the United States. We’ve seen huge growth, over 30 percent growth this year, in Chinese visitors to the United States.
Our wait times, which were a bit high before, are very low. I think today they are seven days in Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou, 13 days in Beijing, and maybe 20 days in Xinjiang, and we are working to get those days – those wait times down lower. But there is no limit. We encourage and we want as many Chinese tourists as want to come here and businesspeople who want to come and buy our goods and services, and we’re doing everything we can to make that possible.
One more thing that could really change this and make it much easier for Chinese is if the Chinese Government would enter with the United States into dialogue to extend visa reciprocity for both countries, so that if Americans going to China could receive a two, three, four-year visa and we could grant Chinese citizens two, three, or four-year visas so that people don’t have to keep applying again. Right now, we have a one-year reciprocity, and that’s not in our interest, it’s not in the Chinese Government’s interest. So we’re hoping that we can extend that, but China – the Chinese Government has to offer reciprocal services to American citizens wanting to go there, and we think that’ll be – that’ll make life even that much easier.
The other thing we’ve done in China, and we’ve done it in many places around the world, is that if you are a well-qualified traveler, while you only receive a one-year visa, if you are well-qualified, you can apply without having to come in for your interview. You can apply by mail in China for renewals if you do it within the first year after your last visa expired. So we’re excited about all these things, but we would like to get a much more liberal reciprocity regime with the Chinese.
MODERATOR: Any question here on this side?
QUESTION: Does the fact of applying for the green card in the past somehow affect the future applications for the tourist visas, for example?
Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. Maria Tabak, RIA Novosti news agency.
MR. DONAHUE: No, that’s a very good question. I think if you have – it depends on where you are. It depends on a case-to-case – on a case-by-case basis. A person who applies for the Diversity Visa Program, for instance, who is otherwise well qualified, I think a lot of people do that and then are also – travel regularly to the United States and apply for visas and they’re granted them. Certainly, if there’s indications either in a diversity visa application or in a regular immigrant visa application that the person wants to move now, and there’s any concern that the person would use the tourist visa incorrectly, would stay until they qualified, then the officer would be required to deny the tourist visa.
But it’s really on a case-to-case basis. I have issued many, many visas to – the best example is there’s very long waits for some brothers and sisters in those categories who are waiting to immigrate to join their brothers and sisters. And they’re often in the middle of their careers, but when they retire, they want to move to the United States. They have the petition pending. And I’ve issued many visas under those circumstances for tourism or business.
MODERATOR: A question back here.
QUESTION: Thank you. David Nikuradze, Georgian television station, Rustavi 2, Washington bureau. There was a special agreement between the United States and Georgia on visa issues. Now the Georgian citizens can get five to ten-year U.S. visas. Is the new regulation only for visitors or, for example, other types – journalists and temporary workers can apply for five or ten-year visas? Thank you, sir.
MR. DONAHUE: I believe that discussion was on the visitor visas, although we often discuss the whole range – although many other visa categories are limited at five years, even – maximum. But we usually – when we have our bilateral meetings with the Georgians, we often discuss what categories and try to – our goal in the United States is to have the most liberal visa regimes we can to help our citizens have the easiest travel situation. So we try to negotiate those with other countries.
MODERATOR: You had one more question?
QUESTION: I’m Khaled from the Middle East News Agency, Egypt. I’m asking, in the light of the Arab Spring this year – it’s not going to happen every year – (laughter) – so is there a special arrangement for countries from the region or – number-wise to increase this number this year or to give some facilities for countries from the region? Thank you.
MR. DONAHUE: Yeah. There really has not been any change in the immigration law as far as quotas for any category this year, so everything is the same and we’re guided by the Immigration Nationality Act, which is a law that’s passed by Congress.
MODERATOR: Another question?
QUESTION: Then just out of curiosity, since Poland is a good neighbor of Germany and if you would have been here one year ago and you would have told us again that Poland doesn’t qualify, I would say, yes, that’s an eternal rule, because always Poland has much – too many applications in other ways, so what happened? Just out of – just in the case of Poland, it’s really surprising for me that they managed to get out of the disqualification list.
MR. DONAHUE: Yeah. It would be speculation on my point – part, but I would guess that it is a combination of the booming economy in Poland and the accessibility that Poland has to Western Europe for work through the European community. So I think the demand to move to the United States is less.
MODERATOR: No more questions? All right.
MR. DONAHUE: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
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