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Diversity visa-holders hope Build Back Better saves their chances

The Senate Parliamentarian is again considering whether to allow an immigration reform bill drafted by congressional Democrats into the government spending package. Would-be U.S. immigrants with expired visas, like those with diversity visas, hope it saves their chances. 

Diversity visas are awarded to some 50,000 people each year from pre-selected countries with low immigration to the U.S. It’s a lottery system with millions of applicants, those selected must apply for and use their green cards within the fiscal year.

But that's been impossible for many who were selected over the last few years. Starting in 2017, winners from Muslim-majority countries were barred under former President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Then, in 2020, the pandemic happened and brought a new, broader set of restrictions. It was just a few months after Mohamed Haggag, a 31-year-old engineer from Egypt, had learned he'd been selected.  

"Only lucky people get the opportunity to be selected in the lottery program, so it’s very hard for us to lose this dream," he said.

Haggag won the visa for the 2020 fiscal year. Now he’s one of tens of thousands who’s watched their visas expire since 2017. 

A clause in the Build Back Better Plan looks to recapture those visas. But there’s still no telling whether it will make it to the final bill.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.