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Understanding the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program

blog3.jpgAs immigration remains a hot-button issue in the US, certain programs are coming under greater scrutiny by the current Administration. One such program is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, often referred to as the Visa Lottery Program, which has become one of the main avenues through which immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia obtain their Green Cards. But what exactly is this program and why is it such a hot-button issue?

What is it?

The Program was established by the Immigration Act of 1990 and annually grants 50,000 Green Cards to participants in a lottery system which is administered by the Department of State. The number of applicants accepted and the number of Green Cards issued is dependent on the number of immigrants from a particular region that were admitted to the US in previous years. For example, if in past years immigration from the designated Africa region was low, more of the 50,000 available slots would be allocated to individuals from this region. For DV2018, over 23 million people applied for these positions.

Who qualifies and how do you apply?

To qualify for a Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, an individual must:

  1. Be citizen (or spouse) of an eligible country

  2. Hold at least a high school diploma or have two years of work experience in a job that requires a minimum of two years of training

  3. Meet general immigration requirements including health exam, financial support, and pass necessary criminal background checks that are administered to all Green Card applicants.

Applicants should apply through the Department of State web portal here between October 18, 2017 and November 22, 2017. Each applicant may only apply once per cycle and incomplete applications will be rejected. Selected applicants will be notified between May 15, 2018 and September 30, 2019.

What is its purpose?

The purpose of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program and the controversy surrounding it are very closely tied. Prior to the 1965 Immigration Act, the US immigration system relied on a quota system based on applicant's national origin and the census composition of the US population. This system heavily favored Western Europeans.

As part of a compromise in 1965, the quota system was eliminated with a shifted focus towards family- and employment-based immigration, with family members of US citizens taking priority. In theory this would allow immigration from around the world into the US. However, it has been alleged that part of the push for family-prioritization was that it would not too greatly disturb the racial composition of the US and Western Europeans with US citizen family members would still be prioritized. See Immigration Law and Procedure in a Nutshell at Chapter 1. However, as a result of in the 1965 Immigration Act, the racial composition of the US began to change dramatically with employment-based recipients bringing over their family members after receiving citizenship. This meant that would-be immigrants from Western European countries, particularly Ireland, who did not have sufficient skill or qualifying family members, were not able to immigrate to the US. See here.

Thus, in 1986 a diversity program was introduced which was meant to delegate a certain number of Green Cards to nationals of countries that were unrepresented in previous years. The law was finally passed in 1990 and the current system was put into effect.

Since its passage in 1990, the Program has become one of the key methods by which immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia have been able to obtain Green Cards to come to the US. Many nationals from these regions would not otherwise meet the family or employment qualifications due to their home countries suffering decades of colonialism, fascism, and war. For example, much of Eastern Europe was blocked off from the rest of the world under the USSR and therefore employment opportunities and training or family outside of the Soviet Union are still difficult to achieve.

Thus, what was originally intended to assist Irish and Italian immigrants has in fact had a diversifying impact.

Controversy

The primary controversy around the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is that the education and employment requirements are too low and that review of applicants may be insufficient. The reality is that while the education and employment standards may be lower, the initial intent of the Program (to increase immigration from underrepresented regions) is being met. While it may not be immigration from the regions that were originally intended, so long as diversity among the US population is desirable, then the Program meets this need.

Additionally, as discussed above, Diversity Visa recipients must go through the same review and admission process as all other Green Card applicants. Standard background, criminal, and health checks are administered to recipients just as they would be for family- or employment-based visa recipients.

Therefore, most of the controversy surrounding the Program relates to controversy surrounding the regions that applicants are being accepted from rather than the Program itself. However, as diversity is desirable and standard safety checks are being made, there is no reason for significant changes to the Program.

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