- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

Prolonged security checks since September 11 have caused a slowdown of almost 14 percent in the number of overseas Muslims granted permission to live in the United States through a special green card program, officials say.
Under the program, citizens of countries with low rates of migration to the United States can try their luck in obtaining permanent U.S. residence visas through a lottery conducted annually by the State Department
Visa approvals were granted to 16,308 lottery winners worldwide from Oct. 1, 2000, to Feb. 28, 2001, according to official figures.
But for the identical period a year later, which occurred after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the number approved was just 14,074 a decline of 2,234, or about 14 percent.
Almost all of that was the result of lower numbers from Muslim countries, said a State Department official, who asked not to be identified.
But it's not clear whether the more extensive background checks will, in the end, result in an increase in rejection rates for would-be immigrants from Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.
James Zogby, who heads the Arab-American Institute, said there is no doubt that the September 11 fallout has "negatively affected hundreds of good people from Arab and Muslim countries who wanted to come and in most situations would immediately have qualified to come to the United States."
Everyone, he added, "will understand the need for increased vigilance as long as the process is transparent and fair."
Mr. Zogby said he has not made inquiries about the fairness of the visa lottery program. But, he said, the State Department has been secretive about the reason for visa approval delays in cases involving Muslims outside the program.
One goal of the visa lottery is to ensure greater diversity in migrant flows to the United States. The lottery can yield permanent residence visas for up to 55,000 foreigners each year.
All of the dozens of predominantly Muslim countries are eligible to participate except for Pakistan, which already has large numbers of people who migrate to America.
Winning the lottery is no assurance of obtaining a U.S. visa. Candidates for visas must first clear security checks, among other barriers, and in the post-September 11 environment, winners in Islamic countries are getting closer scrutiny than before.
The September 11 attacks were carried out by 19 Arabs backed by the al Qaeda terrorist group. Fifteen of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia. All are believed to have had visas allowing them to remain in the United States temporarily.
Applicants for the lottery program, known officially as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, must have either a high school education or its equivalent, or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience.
While the need for increased vigilance concerning migrants and other visitors is generally accepted, the visa lottery, now 12 years old, has its critics.
"We think it is totally wrong," said Jack Martin of the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR). "We have major population pressures at present and should not be encouraging further immigration."

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