By: Yvonne Nachtigal
Mina Shahta, a Volunteer State computer programming major, came to the U.S. from Egypt three years ago on an immigration visa. He was selected by lottery through the US Diversity Visa program.
The program selects 3,000 Egyptian citizens annually to come to the U.S. Once here, they receive a green card.
“Actually, about 5,000 from Egypt are selected,” said Shahta. He explained that applicants go through a qualification screening and only 3,000 are chosen.
The Immigration Act of 1990 established a select number of immigrant visas to be available in various countries through an annual lottery.
According to the US Embassy & Consulate in Egypt website, the purpose of the lottery is to diversify the immigrant population by selecting applicants mostly from countries with lower rates of immigration to the United States.
“When you are in a poor country like my country, you want to make a better life,” said Shahta, in reference to applying for a visa in hopes of coming to America.
“There is rich and poor, very little middle class,” he said. “You cannot better yourself. The state you are born is where you stay. Here you can come from zero and make a better life.”
Although the government pays for college in Egypt, Shahta says there are few jobs and no chance for career advancement.
“You can’t better yourself. The government takes all your money,” said Shahta.
Safety was another reason for leaving Egypt. Shahta’s family is Christian.
“Christians know it is not safe to live in Egypt. They kill us. When you are in your church and you want to pray, you find bombs,” said Shahta.
Violence against Christians in Egypt has caused many Egyptians to emigrate to the US. Many have found a home in Nashville.
According to the Tennessean, Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population of Egypt has suffered from discrimination and violence in the Muslim-majority country for a year.
Shahta explained how attacks against them increased when the Islamists rose to power after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that drove Hosni Mubarak from power.
In 2013, The Tennessean reported that Coptic Christians from churches around Nashville rallied to put an end to the violence in Egypt. Nearly 40 churches in Egypt had been looted and torched, while 23 others were heavily damaged.
Shahta has two older brothers and an older sister. His father is a doctor and his mother works for the government.
He has not seen his family in 3 years and misses them greatly. He talks to them every day. He would like to go back and visit but says he cannot safely do so.
“I can’t go back there because if I go back there I’d have to join the army and go to Sinai,” he said.
Shahta looks forward to the day when he can become a U.S. citizen so that he can visit his family and eventually bring them to the US.
When he first came to Nashville, Shahta found work at a hotel earning minimum wage, but he has already bettered himself by finding higher paying positions. He was working two jobs in addition to going to school but recently quit one to devote more time to his studies.
Shahta says he thinks it is difficult for American young people to fully appreciate the opportunities they have in America.
“They have the freedom to better themselves,” said Shahta.