How Some Aliens Seek to Defraud the Visa Lottery

By David North on June 27, 2022

While culling some old files, I came across a discussion of how the visa lottery was creatively misused in Togo a decade or so ago. I have not seen it discussed in print since that time.

As background, the "Diversity Visa Lottery" gives away 50,000 immigrant visas each year to people with no connections to the U.S., and who claim they are high school graduates. They must come from a nation that does not otherwise send us many immigrants. It is one of the most bizarre systems in the world for allocating a public good — an immigration visa — and has no duplicate anywhere else except for a very small operation run by New Zealand.

One of the nations with lots of lottery applicants is Togo, a former French colony in West Africa with some 8.6 million residents. According to “Three Ethnographies of Escape via Pyramid Schemes”, a book review essay by Middlebury College professor David Stoll published in Anthropological Quarterly, in 2013, the residents of Togo filed more diversity visa lottery applications per capita than any other nation.

One Togolese, identified only as Kodjo, signed up 1,200 applicants for the 2005 lottery, not even charging for his services. He expected that 12 of this 1,200, or 1 percent, would be winners; in the end, he got six. Let’s pick up the text at this point:

[H]e therefore “owned” their dossiers and so could add “dependents” — typically relatives of Togolese emigres, already in the US, who finance the forging of documents and ask only that the winner bring over their own relatives as his [i.e., the winner’s] own.

Kodjo presumably profited from this operation. The text continues:

As for Kodjo’s own emigration strategy, he has sent a winner posing as his wife to an embassy interview no less than three times, only to be foiled each time. In 2008, his strategy was to marry his real fiancé to a winner, send her to the US to get her green card, then have her divorce her husband, return home, and marry him [Kodjo], whereupon they would both proceed to their new home in the US.

All of this illustrates both the potential vulnerability to fraud of the visa lottery, and of the immigration law’s provisions for migrant marriages. It also shows how the diversity visa program can — and is — used to expand chain migration. Whether Kodjo succeeded in the ensuing years is not known.

The specific book with the Togolese story in Stoll’s essay is Nostalgia for the Future: West Africa After the Cold War by Charles Piot.