Internet cafes in many places around the world are reporting brisk business ahead of Saturday's deadline for the 2013 U.S. diversity visa lottery. Officials expect some 15 million people to register online to win one of 50,000 so-called “Green Card visas” that open a path to United States citizenship.
Yusuf Tamiru spends his days sitting in a guard shack in an upscale Addis Ababa neighborhood dreaming of life in the United States. His guard job earns him the equivalent of about $50 a month, hardly enough to support his wife and daughter.
Yusuf says winning a new life in the States would allow him to make enough money to send a monthly remittance to his family back home.
"My dream is if I get the chance and go to the U.S.," he said. "If I work there, then I get the money to send for my daughter and my wife."
The remittances that new immigrants send to relatives back home are often the main sources of foreign exchange in impoverished countries like Ethiopia.
For each of the past 11 years, Yusuf has gone to an internet cafe where he gets help filling out his online lottery registration form. Registration is free, but he pays the equivalent of 60 cents for the services of a computer-literate consultant.
He worries that as more and more people register each year, his chances of being the lucky one get smaller.
"If [a] man is lucky, if he sends [an application] one time, he [gets] the chance," he said. "I think I'm not lucky, that's why I didn't get the chance."
Working from the back room of a tiny Internet cafe, 23-year-old computer whiz Zelalem Tadesse has helped Yusuf and hundreds of others to register. The past three years, he's even applied himself.
Last year, about seven people he assisted were among the 4,900 Ethiopians who won a shot at a Green Card, but not him. He says he would prefer to stay home and help to build a better Ethiopia, but he knows his chances of success are greater if he leaves.
"If I got a bigger thing here, I don't need to go there," said Zelalem Tadesse. "Because what I need, whether it is [in] USA or Ethiopia, is being successful economically. If I can succeed here, I don't need to go there."
Zelalem does not claim that his assistance will improve his clients' chances of winning the lottery. He says if he could, he'd charge more than 60 cents, and he'd help himself first.
But U.S. consular officials say many unscrupulous operators have sprung up charging big fees with false promises that they can improve a person's chances.
The State Department has issued a warning about fraudulent websites posing as U.S. government sites charging large fees to complete lottery forms. Scott Riedman, consular officer at the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, warns that all of those promises are false.
"We receive stories of people getting letters and e-mails saying, 'Hey, you've won the DV lottery program, just pay this processing fee and we'll make sure you get your visa', and these are all scams," said Riedman. "The USG [U.S. government] is the only entity that processes diversity visas and we don't even notify people by e-mail or letter if they've been selected to participate in this program."
Consular officials say applicants must log on to a State Department website with their personal ID number to find out if they've won the chance for a Green Card. Winners of the 2013 lottery will be notified May 1, 2012.