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Winning the Visa Lottery - 2002-09-11

English Feature #7-35452 Broadcast October 29, 2001

Wednesday, October 31st, is the deadline for submitting applications for this year's diversity visa lottery, the process by which randomly selected individuals from various countries can become eligible for permanent residency in the United States. Today on New American Voices we talk with a visa lottery winner from Azerbaijan about what happens after you've won.

Tofik Mamedov was a forty-two-year-old nuclear physician in Baku, Azerbaijan, when his daughter, studying in America, e-mailed him information about the visa lottery six years ago.

"In February '95 I applied for the visa lottery, and then I forgot about it. But in September '95 accidentally I checked my mailbox in the post office, and found the letter about my winning. It had been waiting for me for about two months, can you imagine."

Although initially the Mamedovs were reluctant to leave Baku, and all their family and friends, eventually the prospect of joining their older daughter in America won them over to the idea of emigrating. Winning the lottery, however, did not mean that they automatically received a visa.

"There were two more steps. First of all you have to mail all the information about you and your family, about your specialty, about all your diplomas, and everything. And then the second step, you have to go to the American Embassy -- we went to the American Embassy in Moscow, and we had the meeting with a person from the Embassy, and we passed this meeting also."

The interview at the Embassy is the final screening-point for the visa lottery winners before they are granted a so-called green card, or work permit. Mr. Mamedov's interview took place about six months after he had sent in the required documents.

"They asked general questions about my specialty, they checked my diplomas, they checked some other documents we showed them, just general questions."

After successfully completing the interview, Tofik Mamedov was told that he could leave for the United States within four months. The Mamedov family arrived in New York on August 1, 1996 - about one and a half years after Tofik Mamedov sent in his application for the visa lottery. The family settled in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where their older daughter was attending the university. Tofik Mamedov said he was touched by the kindness of Americans toward him and his family, strangers from far-away Azerbaijan.

"People, they helped us a lot. We got help from people we did not even know about. Can you imagine, they did open house for us. With their help we got a job… When I was asked what surprised me more in this country, I always answer people, because they spent for us more valuable things than money - their time, they gave us more valuable things than food and clothes - the warmth of their hearts. It surprised me, because we didn't know them, and they didn't know us, and it was like a shock for us."

Four months after settling in Sioux Falls, Tofik Mamedov was accepted as a student by a technical institute for its nuclear medicine program. He also found a job as a nurse's aide in the intensive care unit of a local hospital.

"Usually I worked the night shift, and can you imagine, I went to school by daytime, and worked at night. It was very hard, really hard. After two years I graduated this program, passed board exam, and was certified as a nuclear medicine technologist. So now I can work as a nuclear medicine technologist in any part of this country."

Five years after arriving in the United States, Tofik Mamedov is a nuclear medicine technologist in a doctor's office in the Washington area. Although he misses the friends and the more active social life he left behind in Baku, he is not sorry he made the decision to move to America.

"Coming to this country opened my eyes widely on the whole world. I changed everything, from style of my life to my professional skills. Everything changed. And I like all these changes, because it's kind of steps in your development as a social person."

Based on his own experience as a visa lottery winner, Tofik Mamedov has some advice for people who may be contemplating immigrating to the United States.

"I think first of all people who want to immigrate must be hard workers, because it's very important to be a hard worker here in this country. Second, they must know English very well. Without language they cannot do anything. And the third, they must be prepared to go to school to get an American diploma for any specialty they want. It will be very helpful for them if they want to improve their life and their lifestyle."

Next week on this program you'll meet some new Americans who have lost their jobs in the hospitality industry as an indirect result of the terrorist attacks of September 11th.