( ADDIS ABABA, The Wall Street Journal)–The line of Ethiopians extended out the door on a recent afternoon at the normally sleepy Addis Ababa University post office, where the lone clerk wasn’t selling stamps or weighing packages. She was dispensing a coveted lottery ticket—a shot at legal residence in the U.S.
The U.S. government issues green cards to 50,000 people world-wide each year by sheer luck of the draw. Nationals from countries that have sent few immigrants to the U.S., such as Ethiopia, are eligible to participate in the program, known as the Diversity Visa Lottery. Saturday marks the end of this year’s 30-day entry period, during which millions across the globe rushed for a chance to win a green card.
In Ethiopia, where the lottery is mainly known as “DV” and Internet penetration is minuscule, the online-only entry process has generated a burst of business. Internet cafes have profited, and so has the Ethiopian Postal Service, which collects a service fee starting at 10 Ethiopian birr, or 57 cents, for each online entry it processes.
Tsehay Wondim, who owns an Internet kiosk with five computer terminals, normally charges one birr for every five minutes of Web surfing. “During DV season, I double my business,” she says. A tattered white sheet drops from the ceiling to serve as background for the requisite digital photo, which she takes of each entrant as part of the 10 birr she charges per submission.
Lottery season is the busiest time for the one-window postal branch at the university, says clerk Dinkensh Mekonen. “Everybody participates,” she said, as she reviewed a customer’s handwritten form, collected payment and handed him a green receipt. “Even I do.”
The U.S. government doesn’t charge participants to enter the draw. But in 2010, the Ethiopian Postal Service earned two million birr (about $350,000) in revenue on its 100,000-birr investment in the lottery, which its officials call “the project.”
“DV is such a big business,” said Belesti Esubalu, the postal service’s marketing manager.