front cover of The Fixer
The Fixer
Visa Lottery Chronicles
Charles Piot with Kodjo Nicolas Batema
Duke University Press, 2019
In the West African nation of Togo, applying for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery is a national obsession, with hundreds of thousands of Togolese entering each year. From the street frenzy of the lottery sign-up period and the scramble to raise money for the embassy interview to the gamesmanship of those adding spouses and dependents to their dossiers, the application process is complicated, expensive, and unpredictable. In The Fixer Charles Piot follows Kodjo Nicolas Batema, a Togolese visa broker—known as a “fixer”—as he shepherds his clients through the application and interview process. Relaying the experiences of the fixer, his clients, and embassy officials, Piot captures the ever-evolving cat-and-mouse game between the embassy and the hopeful Togolese as well as the disappointments and successes of lottery winners in the United States. These detailed and compelling stories uniquely illustrate the desire and savviness of migrants as they work to find what they hope will be a better life.

front cover of Structured Luck
Structured Luck
Downstream Effects of the U.S. Diversity Visa Program
Onoso Imoagene
Russell Sage Foundation, 2024
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is a lottery that awards winners from underrepresented countries the chance to apply for legal permanent residence in the United States. Most lottery winners think of themselves as lucky, viewing the win as an opportunity to pursue better lives for themselves and their families. In Structured Luck, sociologist Onoso Imoagene uses immigrants’ stories to show that while the visa program benefits many recipients, the program’s design can also lead to exploitation in their countries of origin and reduced potential once they are in the United States.

Combining ethnographic observation in Africa and interviews with immigrants, their family members, and friends from Ghana and Nigeria, Imoagene demonstrates that the visa program is a process of “structured luck,” from how people hear about the lottery, who registers for it, and who participates in it to the application requirements for the visa. In Ghana and Nigeria, people often learn about the lottery through friends, colleagues, or relatives who persuade them to enter for the perceived benefits of receiving a visa: opportunities for upward mobility, permanent legal status, and the ability to bring along family members. Though anyone can enter the lottery, not everyone who wins obtains a visa. The visa application process requires proof of a high school diploma or artisan skills, a medical exam, a criminal background check, an interview with U.S. consular officers, and payment of fees.  Such requirements have led to the growth of visa entrepreneurs, who often charge exorbitant fees to steer immigrants through the process. Visa recipients who were on track to obtain university degrees at home often leave in the middle of their studies for the United States but struggle to continue their education due to high U.S. tuition costs. And though their legal status allows them to escape the demoralizing situations that face the undocumented, these immigrants lack the social support that the government sometimes provides for refugees and other migrants. Ultimately, Imoagene notes, the real winner of the visa lottery is not the immigrants themselves but the United States, which benefits from their relatively higher levels of education. Consequently, she argues, the U.S. must do more to minimize the visa program’s negative consequences.

Structured Luck illuminates the trauma, resilience, and determination of immigrants who come to the United States through the Diversity Visa Program and calls for the United States to develop policies that will better integrate them into society.

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