Activists in Cameroon say there has been a 60% increase in people applying for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery, also known as the Green Card Lottery. Thousands of people have been lining up at internet cafes to apply for the program, citing a need to escape a poor economy and the country’s separatist conflict.
Twenty-nine-year-old teacher Getrude Tanlaka, who is among those entering the visa lottery at a cafe in Yaounde, says she is searching for better economic opportunities.
“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,” she said. “In Cameroon, I cannot do that. I work every day from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the remuneration is very discouraging, but in America it will be very easy. It is an opportunity to step out and change my life.”
Tanlaka says her mother also signed up for the lottery to increase the chances of them succeeding.
The Digital Rights Coalition, an alliance of civil society groups advocating for online rights and safety, says Cameroon’s estimated 200 cybercafes have seen a 60 percent increase in people applying for the visa lottery this year.
They say this follows a sharp dip in 2021 due to the high number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19. The State Department reports that entries to the American Visa Lottery program from Cameroon dropped to 151,000 last year — about half the number from the year before.
Now, says the coalition, many people are hoping to escape economic hardship caused by high inflation and a separatist conflict in western Cameroon, which has claimed at least 3,500 lives.
Akaba James, the coalition’s coordinator, says his organization is warning people to avoid scammers who charge money for unhelpful lottery advice.
“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,” James said. “Ensure that wherever you play the lottery, you collect your receipt, and preserve it very well so that by the time the results are out, and you happen to win, then you can proceed with the filling of your visa application form, the DS 260, and then eventually getting your second notification letter and going for an interview and eventually paying your green card fee and traveling to the U.S.”
Police say some scammers have been arrested but are giving no details.
Meanwhile, some cybercafe owners have been charging illegal fees of between $2 and $7 for each electronic entry for the visa lottery.
Applications can be submitted for free at www.state.gov as recommended by the U.S. Department of State.
Jeffrey Presnell, vice consul at the U.S. embassy in Yaounde, said recently on local television channel STV that people enrolling for the Green Card Lottery must have at least a secondary education.
He also advised applicants to closely follow the rules spelled out on the document.
“Another common mistake that we see is that applicants do not include all of the members of their family. It is very sad because sometimes we see applicants that have won the lottery come and they are disqualified because they did not list all the members of their family. If you just have a fiancee, you should not list your partner on that application,” Presnell said.
He advises applicants to only list the names of legal spouses or children who live with them.