In Tehran, the ritual is becoming as familiar as the “Death to America” chants at Friday prayers.
It’s the yearly rush to enter a lottery for the chance to immigrate to the United States.
“I want to experience a new life in the U.S. Why not?” said Milad Nazari, a spiky-haired 29-year-old working at a sleepy florist in downtown Tehran.
‘Death to America’? I don’t care. The U.S. is the most powerful country … so why shouldn’t I take my chance in the lottery?”
This month the State Department opened a five-week window for visa applications from citizens of countries that historically have had low rates of immigration to the United States.
The annual Diversity Visa lottery selects 50,000 winners who, along with their spouses and children under 21, can obtain green cards and become permanent U.S. residents. Last year 9.4 million people and 5 million family members from more than 200 countries sought visas under the program.
Those numbers included nearly 500,000 Iranians and 432,000 spouses and children, among the most of any country, though a slight decrease from 2014. About 5,000 Iranians were selected for visas; only Cameroon and Liberia had more winners.
Entries from Iran have risen sharply from 150,000 in 2007, reflecting both Iranians’ enduring fascination with the United States – despite official propaganda labeling the U.S. the “Great Satan” – and worsening prospects for the middle class in a country ravaged by economic sanctions.
“I have worked hard but not been able to save enough,” said Naser Zaeim, manager of a printing house in Tehran.
Standing under a printing machine and wiping his greasy hands, Zaeim, 45, said he had missed previous lotteries but planned to apply before this year’s Nov. 7 deadline. (Winners are granted visas starting in 2018.)
As a young man Zaeim spent two years as an unskilled laborer in Japan, where he saved enough to buy a small apartment. When he was deported to Iran, his fortunes faltered.
“I see no future here for my three children,” he said.