The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program was first created in 1980, mainly to benefit Irish immigrants. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative Bruce Morrison of Connecticut, both Democrats, invoked a “diversity” rationale in noting that the program would help the many Irish in the United States who had overstayed their temporary visas. The program was then changed to accept anyone from countries that don’t send many immigrants to the United States. In 1990, the program was passed through a bill signed into law by former President George Bush. This program gives individuals from select countries the opportunity to win a visa by random selection. It is managed by the State Department and has been functioning since 1995.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Program awards up to 50,000 individuals per year with a visa, for a green card; which then leads to residency and citizenship in the U.S. This program can ultimately be life changing, as it provides immigrants from other countries the chance to have access to the occupational, educational and medical opportunities the United States has to offer.
According to travel.state.gov, the top receiving country under the program is Nepal with 3,247 visas, followed by Egypt with 2,855, Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 2,778 each, Uzbekistan with 2,378 and Ethiopia with 2,143. Africans account for a plurality of immigrants in the system, making up 44% of people given green cards. Europeans make up 33%.
No one country is allowed to receive more than 7% of the available visas, according to the State Department, putting the maximum cap around 3,500 people per country.
On Tuesday, October 31st, 2017, 29 year-old Sayfullo Saipov was accused of killing eight people, after he ran over pedestrians and cyclist on a bike path in Manhattan. Saipov was a diversity visa lottery winner, who got the opportunity to come to the United States from Uzbekistan seven years ago.
This horrific event, caused many to question the flaws within the Diversity visa lottery program. For example, the requirements are viewed by some as minimal, as the program requires the applicant to have a high school education, or its equivalent, or two years of qualifying work experience as defined under provisions of U.S. law.
President Trump tweeted “It’s a disaster for our country…The program grants visas not on the basis of merit but simply because applicants are randomly selected in an annual lottery.”
President Trump and other republican lawmakers are in favor of ending this lottery program and are placing great emphasis on advocating for merit based programs. For example, The Reforming America’s Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act was proposed in August and its goal is to cut legal immigration levels in half over a decade.
By introducing the RAISE Act, the Diversity Visa Program would be eliminated. This means that, potentially, that many countries will become underrepresented in the US.
Elektra B. Yao is a multilingual Immigration Attorney and the owner of The Law Office of Elektra B. Yao. You can contact her at Elektra@yaofirm.com. Please visit her website at www.yaofirm.com