(Written too self-consciously in the style of a New Yorker “Talk of the Town Piece.”)
The U.S. green card lottery is one of the most popular contests in Albania. Each month, some scores of Albanians learn that their application has been approved and, pending a clean criminal history, they will be awarded a green card from the U.S. State Department that allows them to move to Worcester (Massachusetts), Detroit, Philadelphia, or any other American city to seek a more prosperous life than any of them could find here. The U.S. green card lottery may be a major culprit in the brain drain that is affecting Albania, but for the individuals who win, it really is the golden ticket to a better life. Or, as Frank Sinatra might have sung, “if I can make it here, I’d be an idiot not to try to make more of it somewhere else.”
Sad, then, that other Albanians have turned the green card lottery into another cottage industries. It is not just the army of sidewalk consultants guaranteeing to prepare a winning lottery application (“Have you checked off box A? Have you listed everyone in your family, whether they live with you or not?”) who are the problem, but possibly a freelancer inside the Albanian Post Office. Every month, the newspapers print the names and addresses of the green card lottery winners, almost exactly as they appear on the envelopes – city addresses listed down to the street, and rural addresses listed by the general post office of the village. The U.S. Embassy, out of respect for privacy, does not publish this list. This suggests that someone at the post office might be sorting through the mail to distinguish the thick envelopes from the thin ones – in the same manner that high school seniors can tell whether they’ve been accepted to which colleges by the size of the response envelope – and then selling the names and addresses to be printed publicly.
Exactly who is behind this is not clear, but not only does it violate Albanian privacy laws, it leaves the winners open to a particularly heavy real-life version of spam – “hey, would you marry my sister so she can come with you”, “how much money would it take for me to buy your identity”, or worse, “I’ve never met you, but if you don’t give me $50,000 right now, I’ll mess with your records so that you never get a final approval.” In a country where everyone wants a better life, it’s sad that there are so many people willing to deny each other the same thing in the process.