The comprehensive immigration reform bill has been the subject of much media attention since its introduction into the U.S. Senate last month. If the bill passes, it will likely change U.S. immigration law in many significant ways including implementing new visa categories, heightening border security programs, and providing a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for unauthorized foreign nationals.
The Senate has already started debating multiple provisions of the bill and many Senators have proposed changes and amendments to the bill. This debate and amendment process will likely last several weeks because there are multiple special interest groups who are submitting amendments in order to protect and further the immigration-related goals of their constituents.
One major group involved in the debate is the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). In contrast to many other groups that are debating the mechanisms for employment-based immigration and how to contend with unauthorized foreign nationals, the CBC is focusing on a lesser-known immigration opportunity – the diversity visa lottery program (DV program).
As it is currently written, the immigration reform bill ends the DV program and replaces it with merit-based programs to facilitate immigration for skilled foreign workers. As explained below, the CBC feels that replacing the DV program with these merit-based systems would adversely impact many groups of potential immigrants who will have difficulty in qualifying for permanent residency without the DV program.
The Diversity Visa Program
Congress created the DV program with the purpose of increasing immigration from countries that were under-represented in the U.S. immigration pool.
Most immigration opportunities are made available to foreign nationals who have been hired by U.S. employers or who have close family relationships with U.S. citizens or permanent residents (such as spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21). It can be very difficult for foreign nationals without these connections to otherwise qualify for U.S. permanent residence.
To address this issue, the DV program allows foreign nationals to apply for a green card without the need for a U.S. employer or qualifying family member to sponsor them. The DV program is only available to nationals of certain countries. By statute, nationals from countries that in the previous five years had fewer than 50,000 nationals emigrate to the U.S. are eligible for the DV program.
In addition to being a national from an eligible country, DV program applicants must also have a high school education or two years of work experience.
Eligible foreign nationals submit their DV program applications electronically and the winners are randomly selected by a computer (hence the name diversity visa “lottery”). The U.S. State Department informs the applicants who have won and the winners must then file more forms and paperwork in order to enter the United States. Winners can bring their spouses and children with them to the United States.
Why the CBC Supports Keeping the DV Program
The CBC wants to keep the DV program because, historically, most of the beneficiaries of this program have been African nationals. In fact, statistics indicate that African nationals receive 48% of the diversity visas, with Ethiopia receiving 3,987 visas, Nigeria receiving 2,937 visas, and Kenya receiving 2,279 visas in 2010.
Many of these foreign nationals would not otherwise have options to immigrate to the U.S. for the reasons discussed above. Therefore, CBC members claim that the DV program is indispensable to the efforts to encourage U.S. immigration from African countries.
Additionally, the CBC also takes issue with what they feel is an under-representation of African immigrants’ rights in the reform bill, as the bill currently contains provisions to facilitate immigration for Canadians and Afghans, among other ethnic groups. The CBC feels that Africans should be offered similar opportunities, especially if the DV program will be ended.
The CBC’s opposition to the repudiation of the DV program is a good illustration of how many provisions of the immigration reform bill could have wide-reaching intended and unintended consequences. Since the final version of the bill is sure to contain many new provisions, it is vital that lawmakers, immigration attorneys, foreign nationals, and other affected parties have a comprehensive understanding of the new laws. Check back with our blog for continuous updates on this and other important issues.
More Blog Posts:
Senator Introduces the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, ImmigRantings, May 6, 2013
Update on Immigration Reform: Possible Creation of New “W” Visa, ImmigRantings, April 17, 2013
Denial Rates for H-1B Visas Rising in U.S. Consulates in India, ImmigRantings, February 19, 2013