The beauty of the green card lottery is the initial entry process is open to any citizen of a nation on the list of eligible countries.
Australia is sometimes known as “the lucky country,” which often raises the question of why I’d want to apply for permanent residency in the U.S.
For me, it was a combination of fulfilling a long-held dream to live and work here, a desire to live nearer to a handful of close friends and the need to challenge and take myself out of my comfort zone while I’m still young enough to make the most of the experience.
In the process of writing my latest column I got the chance to speak to some other Australian DV lottery hopefuls about their own journeys.
Some career paths can only take you so far in Australia, but they have higher ceilings in the United States.
That was the draw for Sebastian Lee, a 22-year-old from Melbourne, Victoria, in Australia’s southeast. Now living in Los Angeles, Calif., after receiving his green card last October in his very first attempt at the lottery, Lee is in the entertainment business.
“I decided to study film after finishing high school, and coming to study and work in the United States seemed to be the next logical step,” he told me via email. “Unfortunately, in my experience, the work opportunities for someone interested in the film industry are nowhere near as abundant in Australia.”
When he passed through immigration control at Los Angeles International Airport in January, it wasn’t Lee’s first steps on U.S. soil.
“Apart from a very brief holiday when I was young, my first visit to the U.S. came in my second year of university,” he wrote. “I went on an exchange trip to California State University Long Beach to study in their film program. Since that initial visit I have returned three times, once on [a tourist visa], once on a J-1 work/travel visa, and lastly as a winner of the DV lottery.”
The tender age of 22 makes immigration seem like quite a challenge, but Lee said his family and friends back home have been behind him the whole way.
“At this point in my life, it makes more sense for me to stay in the United States to pursue my career in film,” he said. “I’m just hoping to be able to afford flights home for holidays and special occasions.”
It’s not such a case of first time lucky for others in the arts.
Anthony Priwer, a 35-year-old radio producer and singer-songwriter based in Sydney, New South Wales, has entered the lottery 10 times.
“When I first started entering the green card lottery, I was only about 25. It’s taken nearly a third of my life to so far not move to the U.S.,” he told me this week.
And sometimes even getting a green light for further processing on May 1 doesn’t guarantee you a spot, as Priwer discovered in 2013 when his number came up.
“Because my 2014 case number is high and I’m nervously waiting to see whether or not I’ll get an interview, I’ve also entered the 2015 lottery as a nonfool-proof back-up plan,” he wrote.
Should he finally be successful, Priwer’s sights are set on Tinseltown to make his mark.
“I’ve been to the U.S. a couple of times before. The first time, because it had been a lifelong dream to go to L.A., I was a bit worried it wouldn’t be all I’d hoped for,” he said. “But when I looked out the window of the shuttle bus from the airport, as soon as I saw the palm trees and the Hollywood sign, I knew this was where I’d belong.”
Regardless of his self-proclaimed “pretty average luck,” he intends to keep trying.
“My mother said it best. She said, ‘You’ve been talking about the U.S. your whole life, and unless you get it out of your system, you’ll always be restless here.’”
And as mothers will tell you, they’re always right.
Priwer isn’t the only Australian who’s tried multiple times and missed out on a ticket in the lottery. But what makes it more frustrating for Melbourne native Lynda Galea, 28, is that she’s lived and worked legally in the U.S. for the past two years.
A career in social media marketing brought her to Orlando, Fla., but the job isn’t enough to lock in permanent residency because of the nature of her work visa.
“The process itself is quite ridiculous too. If I qualify for an E3 visa based on my education and specialization and have been living here for a couple of years, pay my taxes, abide by the law etc., I definitely think I should be allowed access to a green card before a random ‘lottery’ winner,” she told me via email.
But despite that bureaucratic hitch, which requires Galea’s visa to be renewed at an embassy outside the U.S. every two years, she’s happy to call this country home.
“The feeling I get when I’m in the U.S. is different to any other country I’ve traveled to — it’s hard to explain, but when I’m here, I just feel at home and in my skin,” she told me. “The U.S. is also a lot further advanced in social media marketing, which is the industry that I specialize in. I want to remain at the cutting edge of this industry and Australia can’t accommodate for this.”
One couple I spoke to, from my home state of Queensland, are more about living where they love rather than going where the work is.
That’s why Paul and Carolyn Barnett, 54 and 44 respectively, hope to pack up their lives on the beautiful Gold Coast and move to equally idyllic climes.
“We are hoping to make Hawaii our home after visiting many, many times. (Having) older parents mean we do not want to be too far away (from Australia),” they said via email this week. And they’re not looking too far ahead of themselves just yet, with their visa interview approaching in mid-May.
“Get jobs and assimilate into the local community is as far as we have planned at this stage,” they wrote. “We will be out of our comfort zone initially but we golf and will volunteer locally. The USA appeals as a big brother to Australia — both have sort of always been there for each other — every book and movie makes you feel as though you know all there is to know about it without actually knowing anything.”
LEAP OF FAITH
A common thread between many prospective Aussie immigrants to the U.S., anecdotally at least, is that they’ve come on vacation and fallen in love with the place. That was certainly the case for me.
That’s not always the case though, and one such example is Kiara Cunningham, a 22-year-old nursing student from Melbourne. But despite never having set foot on U.S. soil, she’s all set to activate her permanent residency here in July.
“What do I have to lose? Moving to the U.S. has been a childhood dream of mine for as long as I can remember,” she told me. “Maybe I can blame my perpetual love for the Olsen twins as a child. I really don’t know, I just know it feels right.”
But, as I also experienced when I went through the process, what’s right for you doesn’t always sit well with those close to you.
“Honestly almost everyone has been rather vague. I’ve gotten the standard ‘congratulations, that’s exciting for you, but why?’ line too often to count,” Cunningham said. “People are happy ‘for’ me but not so much ‘with’ me.
“It’s the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me, most people don’t understand, either the process or why I would want to leave Australia or are simply just not happy about it.”
Adrian Crawford is a Web editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email him at [email protected]. Maine Walkabout is published the first and third Sundays of each month. More of his adventures in Vacationland can be found at www.crawfinusa.com.