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Visa Lottery Attracting Japanese to Costly Consultants

August 20, 1992

TOKYO (AP) _ Many Japanese are so anxious to win the U.S. immigrant visa lottery they are paying high fees to consultants to fill out simple forms and drop the letter in the mail.

The U.S. consul general called paying up to $500 ″incomprehensible.″

But the consultants continue to prosper off the dreams of Japanese who see the United States as the land of opportunity despite Japan’s status as reigning economic superpower.

Japanese entering the lottery see life in America as a chance to become rich, and an escape from their tiny residences, long commutes and repressed individualism that are the norm on this crowded archipelago.

Last year, 6,413 Japanese won immigrant visas that were issued on a first- come, first-served basis, the third highest total after the Irish and Polish. The program set aside 16,000 of the 40,000 visas for Irish.

This year, there will also be 40,000 winners from among people born in 36 nations or territories. But the visas will be picked at random, rather than given in order recieved like last year. The application deadline is Aug. 28.

Again, Irish will be promised 16,000 visas. There are no quotas for the other nations.

The lottery is weighted to favor Irish nationals because of the strong Irish lobby on Capitol Hill. Sixteen-thousand of last year’s 40,000 winners were Irish.

Of the Japanese who won last year, almost half were women. Many of them said they wanted to leave Japan because gender discrimination was holding back their careers.

In an attempt to take advantage of this year’s lottery, Japanese agencies are promising to fill out the paper work for the ″chance for the American Dream,″ as one Tokyo-based firm described the lottery.

Fees range from $157 to about $500.

The U.S. Embassy, however, questions the need for such help since the filing procedure consists of nothing more than mailing a piece of paper that lists the applicant’s name, date and place of birth, the names and birth dates of family members, the current mailing address and the location of the nearest U.S. consulate.

″Anyone who wishes to employ immigration service companies can. But a person does so at great expense and with little reason. The fact that anyone would pay someone 20,000 yen to buy a 100-yen (80-cent) postage stamp and mail a letter for him does not make much sense,″ U.S. Consul General Michael Carpenter wrote to a local newspaper.

He also criticized those agencies for charging even steeper fees to help the winners prepare six documents that must be submitted before a visa can be issued.

″If that same person won the lottery, the fact that he would pay an additional 300,000 yen ($2,400) for nothing but some help in filling out a form is, frankly, incomprehensible,″ he wrote.

But in a society with few consumer advocacy groups, the agencies are having an easy time presenting themselves as gate openers.

The agencies also deny they overcharge and say they provide a valuable service.

″The fee is a commission for saving time and trouble,″ says Tadashi Murata of Nels B. Nelson, a firm that charges $200.

Noritaka Nakayama, 49, a pub owner, did not know how simple the application process was and paid $157 for help. That money will be well invested, he said, if he wins a visa.

″To have the passion to realize a dream is a challenge in a man’s life,″ he said.

Citizens of the following countries and territories are eligible for the lottery:

Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Guadeloupe, New Caledonia, Germany, Britain, Northern Ireland, Bermuda, Gibraltar, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland and Tunisia.

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