Deportation Hawks Target Green Card Lottery

Now one of the only working immigration visa programs is under attack too.

By Seth Freed Wessler Nov 23, 2010

The U.S. immigration system is notoriously hard to maneuver. For most, getting a visa is just not possible and for those lucky enough to find a place in the long and growing lines, it can take decades to become a citizen. This is one of the main reasons there are so many undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and as time passes, the waits get longer, the lines more unbearable.

But there’s one route to a green card that’s actually fairly direct: a program called the diversity visa lottery that allows people from all over the world to apply for a chance to win a path to citizenship. This year, a record number of people applied to the program, hoping to win a spot.

Now, like everything else that has anything to do with immigrants, the visa program is emerging as the object of attack. A Republican Congressman has vowed to introduce legislation to abolish the program, saying it’s unfair and dangerous. But the program may be the one functional part of the immigration system.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "a record 15 million people around the world this year entered America’s green-card lottery, an immigration program that offers a quick path to legal, permanent U.S. residence for 50,000 people a year–selected purely by the luck of the draw." The massive application rates mean that only a fraction of a percent will get visa. For those without family in the U.S. and who do not have particular sought after skills, it’s the only way to come here.

The WSJ reports:

Launched in 1990 to promote diversity in the immigrant population, the green-card lottery is now open to people from almost anywhere in the world, except countries that already boast a large number of nationals in the U.S., including Mexico, China, India and the Philippines. No special skills are required: A high-school diploma suffices. Lottery winners eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship.

Two-thirds of lawful permanent residents come through family based visa programs. Another 13 percent obtain employment based visas but it can take five to twenty-five years to work through this process, and many are not eligible at all.

The diversity visa program requires applicants to have a high school dimploma but as long as that requirement is met, anyone from an included country can apply. Once applications are submitted, it takes about 18 months to get to the states.

But some would like to end the program. Rep. Bon Goudlatte of Virginia wants to close the avenue down altogether.

"More and more people are learning about this program and are dumbfounded that we have it in the first place," Goodlatte told the Wall Street Journal. "Our chances have never been better to kill it."

He has previously introduced legislation to kill the program and plans to do so again this year.

That’s only one of the objections. Some believe it’s unfair that anyone can apply and so quickly gain lawful residence when family and work-based applicants must wait for years. Although, one could more fruitfully argue that the disparity points to flaws in the family and work-based immigration processes, not with the diversity lottery.

Others say that because the program only requires a high school diploma, it’s inviting low skilled workers, of which they think the country has enough. Echoing conservative immigration restriction groups, an immigration attorney interviewed by the Journal says, "It shows that the U.S. immigration system doesn’t make sense. We are allocating visas based on luck instead of knowledge." For many though, the high school diploma requirement is a prohibitive restriction, not an overly permissive policy.

And, according to the Wall Street Journal:

Rep. Goodlatte of Virginia and others also voice concern that the program is inviting to terrorists, because people don’t need to prove they have ties to the U.S. and are guaranteed permanent residency, which allows them to get almost any job–even handling explosives.

Of course, applicants to the program are required to go through the same rigorous checks as any other visa seeker would. But claims that the program allows applicants to jump ahead in line and that it invites people with violent designs on the U.S. are sure to gain attention in the current conservative climate. The only halfway-working immigration program the country is now embattled, too.