Why the ‘Diversity Lottery’ Needs to End

Why the ‘Diversity Lottery’ Needs to End


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Originally published by The New York Times

Almost immediately after the Manhattan terrorist attack on Tuesday, President Trump faulted the “diversity lottery” visa program under which the Uzbek immigrant suspected in the attack entered this country, and laid the blame for the program’s existence on Senator Charles Schumer and other Democrats.

As is often the case, he is wrong on his facts — here, about political responsibility for the program, which has been supported by both parties for over 25 years (though Mr. Schumer has backed getting rid of it). But Mr. Trump is right that these visas are bad policy and that the program should be canceled. Better still, they should be used for other, wiser purposes.

First, the facts. Of the roughly one million permanent resident visas — commonly known as green cards — issued each year, 50,000 are awarded through a lottery process with few preconditions other than that applicants come from countries with little immigration to the United States during the previous five years.

Congress made this program permanent in 1990 after several years of experimentation. 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. Despite the numerous people of Irish background already in the country from earlier waves of migration, Ireland was an eligible country under the program because, at the time, its economy was doing well and few people were emigrating. So much for actual diversity.

Today, lottery winners with little education, job skills, English fluency and work experience can hit the jackpot and promptly come (or stay) here permanently, while millions of American citizens and legal residents must wait years for their family members to be allowed to join them, dividing families and motivating illegal immigration. (Even citizens must now wait for sometimes 20 years for their unmarried children to get a visa.) The same challenge faces would-be immigrants who have skills needed here but can’t qualify for an employer-sponsored visa. Even the State Department, which runs the lottery program, acknowledges that it is rife with fraud.

If you find this lottery a weird way to allocate 5 percent of our one million precious green cards, you’re right. It makes no sense for the United States to randomly distribute these visas on the fictitious argument that the most diverse advanced nation in the world needs more diversity in its immigrant population. None of the few other countries that routinely admit immigrants uses a lottery.

True, America has probably benefited from some of the immigrants who have come through the program. But that’s to be expected: Since more than one million lottery winners have arrived since 1990, it is a statistical certainty that some would flourish here. But there is no reason to believe that lottery winners in general will do as well here as other immigrants who must demonstrate their skills, job offers or family ties to be admitted.

Mr. Trump is wrong to link the lottery program to terrorism. True, the attack suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, is not the first lottery winner to mount an attack here; another shot and killed two people at Los Angeles International Airport in 2002. And it is also true that lottery winners have fewer existing ties to the United States than other green card holders, who must have proved such ties to even apply for admission. But the current pre-admission vetting of all potential entrants — vetting that Mr. Trump is trying to strengthen — should minimize this risk.

Still, there are much better uses for these coveted visas. The simplest reform would allocate them to some or all of the existing legal admission categories. Another approach, already proposed by some in Congress, would move to a Canadian-type point system, which allocates visas competitively based on various criteria such as existing ties to the country, English fluency, formal education and job skills.

Another reform, long proposed by pro-immigration economists, would auction some visas among applicants who meet certain requirements. Auctioning the 50,000 lottery visas — perhaps adding in the 10,000 or so visas a year awarded under the fraud-prone EB-5 investor program — could be used to attract bids by skilled workers and their potential employers, yielding revenues that can be put to good social use.

Green cards to the United States are among the most valuable pieces of paper on earth, especially today when we are one of the few remaining beacons of hope, opportunity and safety for would-be immigrants. We should distribute them in our considered national interest, not by chance.

Read more: www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/opinion/diversity-lottery-skilled-immigrants.html


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