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Law360 (June 2, 2021, 5:10 PM EDT) -- Diversity visa winners barred from immigrating to the U.S. under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the Trump administration's travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries can get another chance to reclaim their lost immigrant visas under a new bill, lawmakers said Wednesday.
The Diversity Visa Lottery, which runs every year, allows 55,000 individuals from underrepresented countries the chance to move to the U.S. However, former President Donald Trump's executive orders banning travel from mostly Muslim-majority countries prevented many lottery winners from using their visas, which eventually expired.
President Joe Biden lifted the ban, colloquially known as the Muslim ban, within hours of taking office, but the Keeping Our Promise Act — proposed legislation from U.S. Reps. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., and Judy Chu, D-Calif., — would restore those lost visas.
"3,900 people from Muslim-majority countries won the diversity visa lottery only to be defrauded by discrimination and have their American dream stolen," Torres said during a press conference. "These 3,900 diversity visa winners have never been made whole. We in Congress have a moral obligation to do more than simply rescind the Trump 'Muslim ban.'"
Individuals barred under the travel ban would have one year to reclaim the diversity visa under the proposal, if it passes. The bill would also give foreigners another year to resume the application process if their initial application was frozen due to the travel ban.
Diversity visa hopefuls must go through what Chu described as the "most exhaustive vetting system in the world" to obtain a green card. Moreover, they are bound by law to complete the process in the same fiscal year they won the lottery.
In addition to Trump's ban frustrating the process for winners from Muslim-majority countries, the COVID-19 pandemic later jeopardized the visa chances for winners of the 2020 lottery.
Early in the national emergency, Trump barred noncitizens from moving to the U.S. on new immigrant visas, including diversity visas. At the same time, the U.S. Department of State slashed its overseas operations to mission-critical services, which excluded diversity visa processing. That tangle of restrictions eventually resulted in the expiration of 30,000 unused or unclaimed diversity visas.
In late February, Biden revoked the ban on new immigrant visa holders. But while he highlighted the plight of the 2020 lottery winners, he didn't say whether he would restore the expired visas.
If passed, Torres' and Chu's bill would additionally allow the State Department to issue diversity visas to people unable to claim or use the visa due to COVID-19.
The lawmakers estimate the bill would benefit 36,000 diversity lottery winners.
--Editing by Steven Edelstone.
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