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Lots of Luck

New York�s green-card-lottery winners may soon become the last of their kind.


Ulrika Catarino, immigrant  

Don’t look for testimony from Daily News gossip columnist Ben Widdicombe, Tipping Point scribe Malcolm Gladwell, or freelance fashion designer and Park Slope mom Ulrika Catarino at the traveling immigration hearings that Republican congressional leaders are promising this summer. But they all got to New York thanks to a program the conservative reforms will likely end: the diversity lottery. Each year since 1990, the State Department has randomly awarded 50,000 immigrant visas to nationals from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. (pretty much everywhere besides India, China, the U.K., and parts of Eastern Europe and Latin America). The bill passed by the House abolishes the lottery, and the Senate’s version seeks to restrict two-thirds of the winners to those with advanced degrees in math, science, engineering, and technology. Which wouldn’t leave much room for Widdicombe, a freelance writer in his native Australia. When he arrived in 1998, his first job was selling hot dogs on Columbus Avenue. “My life in New York in a very short period of time has been, if you like, the American Dream. Literally from selling hot dogs to having a column in the Daily News.” Or for that matter, Swedish native Catarino, who was studying chemistry at Kungliga University when she decided to take an internship with H&M. She preferred fashion and applied to FIT. Winning the lottery “felt like freedom”—and that’s not just hyperbole; her student visa limited her income. “I have a large group of foreign friends, and I witnessed never-ending visa traumas. I applied for the green card as a means of assuring my life here.”

The lottery is free and can be entered only through the State Department’s Website. Over 5 million apply each year. Today, photos are subject to biometric testing to make sure the same face doesn’t apply twice, perhaps in response to applicants like the Canada native Gladwell. “I entered 200 times,” he says. “I always thought it was the very best way to become an American—since it turns citizenship into a prize.”

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