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Fate of Visa Lottery Winners Now in High Court’s Hands

The refusal of one federal judge to overrule President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban against Muslim-majority countries, has put the fate of four families—two from Iran and two from Yemen—who won the annual immigration/visa lottery, in limbo.

In her 17-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote: “The court declines to alter the status quo and grant these specific requests for injunctive and mandamus relief while the legality of the executive order is currently before the Supreme Court.”

The Immigration and Nationality Act provides for a diversity visa program, the winners of which are selected through a lottery system. The program, initiated by Congress, grants up to 50,000 visas to applicants from select countries. Applicants enter the lottery by filing a petition, after which the State Department randomly chooses winners to receive visas.

The Alsakkaf and Alamaqrami families from Yemen, and the Golsefid and Zadeh families from Iran, won such visas into the U.S. Despite passing the visa application process and consular interviews, they were still denied entry into the United States.

Under the Obama administration, the four families would have been received their visas just fine. But President Trump’s June executive order banning travel from six predominantly Muslim countries now requires to provide a bona fide relationship with the U.S. Unable to produce this requirement, the winning families were deemed ineligible for entry.

President Trump’s controversial executive order prohibits nationals from six Muslim-majority countries – Libya, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen – from entering the US as part of a 90-day suspension.

The ban was, however, met with widespread criticism and was challenged in several courts across the country on constitutional and statutory grounds. The movement against the travel ban proved successful as two injunctions initially prohibited the execution of the ban.

The government responded by appealing to the Supreme Court, petitioning for certiorari. This resulted in the partial implementation of the travel ban, with certain provisions including the clause requiring a verifiable bona fide relationship going into effect.

The four families sued over the ban, demanding that consular officers continue processing their applications pursuant to the statute. The court declined.

In consolation, Judge Chutkan ordered that any unused visa slots be saved for the four families, allowing them to recover their visas if the high court finds the travel ban unlawful.

Judge Chutkan writes: “The court is merely ensuring that plaintiffs will not be deprived of a remedy should the Supreme Court rule in their favor. Absent relief from this court, plaintiffs are foreclosed from receiving visas in 2017 due to the impending statutory deadline.”

For now, these immigrant families will have to wait until the Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of the Trump travel ban.

If you want to learn more about the visa lottery program and the most recent changes affecting the system, we encourage you to talk to the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.

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