DW | Economic hardship, inflation and the high costs of living worsened by Cameroon’s separatist crisis is pushing many to seek a way out. The US Diversity Immigrant Visa Program provides hope for a better life abroad.
Luc Evembe, who works at an internet cafe near Cameroon’s Yaounde city, was busy helping students enter the United States Diversity Visa Program (DV-2024) ahead of the November 8, 2022 deadline.
It was hectic for Luc, considering the large number of people, mostly students, who turned up at his internet cafe to enter the visa lottery program.
The US State Department will select tens of thousands of entrants to apply for permanent residency in the United States.
“When you look, you see that a majority of those who are attracted by the American lottery are youths,” Luc told DW.
The Diversity Visa program gives up to 55,000 people worldwide every year the opportunity to immigrate to the United States without having to have exceptional qualifications, American relatives, or even a workplace in the US.
Like thousands of people across Africa, Cameroonian workers — both skilled and unskilled — have a huge interest in entering the program.
Most of them have high expectations of finding better living and working conditions should they eventually move to the US.
Escaping economic hardships
With Cameroonians’ tough living conditions made worse by separatist and political crises, entering the Diversity Visa Program has become a major priority.
“People are frustrated. We are frustrated by situations like the separatist crisis in the northwest, and then the American lottery comes to make us dream. It makes us dream,” Evembe said.
“I think that while there [United States of America], I will find better conditions.”
Rights groups say that the number of people from Cameroon entering for the US Diversity Visa program increased by 60% this year — especially in the economic capital Doula, Buea and Bamenda in the English-speaking west.
Gertrude Tanlaka, a 29-year-old teacher, told DW that she lost her job due to separatist unrest in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions. She now plans to move to the US in search of peace and employment.
“I just want to get out. That is why I am playing the American lottery. My family has suffered a lot, and this is the time for me to take care of them. In Cameroon I cannot do that, but in America it will be very easy. It is an opportunity to step out and change my life,” she said.
Tanlaka’s mother also applied for the visa program to boost the family’s chances of winning the lottery.
Visa hopefuls become victims of scammers
Experts have blamed the huge interest by Cameroonians in the lottery on the separatist crisis that has claimed at least 3,500 lives, economic hardship, inflation, and high costs of living.
But digital rights groups are also concerned about those falling victim to scammers.
Akaba James, the coordinator of Digital Rights Coalition Cameroon, a grouping of civil society organisations, said scammers are extorting money from people and promising to help them file for the lottery.
“There are thousands of fake sites, fake people on YouTube providing advice about the DV lottery when they themselves have very little understanding of that process,” he told DW.
Police in Cameroon police said cybercafe owners were charging illegal fees of between $2 and $7 for each electronic entry for the visa program.
The police said many of the applications were not submitted for free as recommended by the US State Department.
Jeffrey Presnell, vice consul of the US embassy in Yaounde, said applicants must always pay attention to the information they provide for the lottery if they are to avoid difficulties.
“It is very sad because sometimes we see applicants that have won the lottery come but they are disqualified because they did not list all the members of their family,” Presnell told DW.
“If you just have a fiancee, you should not list your partner on that application. You should only list your legal spouses or your legal children that live with you.”
EU’s Blue Card program
The Diversity Visa program started in 1986 to make the USA a more ethnically diverse country. Currently there are no similar lottery programs in European Union member states.
However, in 2009 the European Council adopted the so-called EU Blue Card directive and in December 2011, the single permit directive was adopted, establishing the EU Blue Card scheme: A demand-driven, residence and work permit.
The EU Blue Card program was established to make Europe a more attractive destination for professionals from outside the European Union.
Three key conditions need to be met in order to request an EU Blue Card. An applicant must be a non-EU citizen, educated or professionally experienced, and have been given an employment contract or a binding offer of employment.
All EU member states issue the EU Blue Card, with the exception of Denmark and Ireland.
5 years of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis