In the September 2020 Visa Bulletin, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs announced the results of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or Diversity Visa Lottery, for FY 2021. The top countries “winning the visa lottery game” this year are Egypt (6,002), Russia (6,001), Algeria (6,001), and Iran (6,001).
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the diversity lottery makes available 55,000 permanent resident visas annually to countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. It is essentially a glorified wheel of fortune as applicants are selected at random. Approximately 132,000 applicants out of the 6,741,128 qualified entries for FY 2021 were selected to apply for an immigrant visa. Out of that pool, 55,000 applicants will be randomly selected.
The nonsensical program was created in the early 1990s as a way to open the door to more immigrants who could not qualify for immigration opportunities through chain-migration, an equally problematic immigration policy created in the 1960s which favors bloodlines over merit.
There is little reason to continue such a program. No humanitarian reason exists to admit people based on pure luck as the program just draws names out of a virtual hat. Despite its name, the diversity lottery does not have a significant effect on the actual diversity of immigration nor does the lottery make any attempt to select people based on skill or employment potential.
Failures in our immigration system results largely from ill-conceived programs masquerading as humanitarian efforts like the diversity lottery. This is aggravated by the current chain migration system which allows visa lottery winners to sponsor relatives, resulting in way more admitted people than advertised. In FY 2016, 46,718 diversity visa holders brought an additional 161,177 immigrants into the U.S. through chain migration policies.
Since the diversity lottery doesn’t take economic standing or potential into account, and thereby does nothing to improve the economic status of the United States, applicants may have disproportionate need to access welfare programs. This is especially true when the countries which “win the visa lottery” are heavily impoverished. According to the Center of Immigration Studies, the use of welfare by immigrant households is already over 30 percent higher than that of native households. We should be taking steps to alleviate that number, not potentially aggravate it. With heavy use of welfare, immigrants strain already depleting public resources, making it difficult to assist low income families already in the country.
President Trump criticized the diversity lottery early on in his presidency but since has done little to repeal the program. Congress must pass legislation repealing this nonsensical and deceitful program, or even better, adopting a merit-based immigration system.
By repealing the diversity lottery and establishing a merit-based immigration system, we would not only ensure that legal immigrants would bring the necessary skills to the American economy, but also a more diverse flow of immigrants. In addition to being fairer and ensuring greater diversity, a merit-based immigration policy would save American tax-payers billions of dollars a year as it would require those who obtain visas to be able to support themselves and any additional family without the dependence on welfare programs.