Advisers aim to win with US visa lottery

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A LOTTERY for 40,000 immigrant visas to the United States is in full swing, and already questionable advice is being offered by law firms and legal agencies on both sides of the Atlantic about how applicants can get an edge in the selection process.

'We will prosecute those who use this programme to prey on would-be immigrants to this country,' said Susan Sachs of New York City's department of consumer affairs yesterday. Last year, when a similar lottery was held, New York City accused three lawyers and four visa services of misleading newspaper advertisements which offered special services to people from the 36 countries eligible to apply.

The lion's share of the visas - 16,000 - are already earmarked for natives of Northern Ireland and Ireland, thanks to the highly effective lobbying of politicians by illegal Irish immigrants in the US. The disproportionate number of visas being granted to Ireland also reflects the clout of the Irish vote in US politics.

Natives of Britain (excluding Northern Ireland), Albania, Argentina, Norway, Poland, Tunisia and Canada among other countries are also encouraged to apply, but they will have to scramble for the remaining 24,000 residence visas to be handed out.

This year no misleading advertisements have been spotted by investigators in New York, but the authorities are determined to prosecute even those companies which place misleading advertisements abroad.

One company which has been advertising in the Independent charges pounds 170 to help those who want to enter the lottery by making sure their application form is filled in properly and will then post it in the US. A spokesman for the company would not say whether he thought applicants were getting value for money. 'We're alleviating a possible headache for our clients,' said Alaf Jadavji yesterday.

Officials in New York are adamant, however, that there is no need for those seeking a visa to pay anything more than the dollars 25 ( pounds 13) processing fee. The application form, such as it is, consists of the applicant's name, date of birth and place of birth along with a mailing address and the name of the closest US consular or visa office.

Only one application is allowed per person (others will be disqualified) and applications must reach the US address by midnight on 28 August in a normal-sized envelope. Applicants must have a written offer of employment in the US, but that comes later, when the lottery winners are called for an interview by the US embassy. It is only at this stage than any money needs to change hands - the dollars 25 processing fee.

The address to enter is AA-1 Programme, PO Box 199, Dulles, Virginia, 21301-1993, United States

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