Every year, 50,000 immigrants obtain Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) in the United States through a program called the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery. The sole eligibility requirement is that applicants hold a high school degree or have a job that requires at least two years of training, and the lottery is only open to natives of countries that have sent fewer than 50,000 migrants to the U.S. in the past five years.
In Congress, the debate over the program has revolved primarily around the assumption that the lottery encourages increased diversity in the U.S. immigration system at the cost of attracting primarily low-skilled immigrants.
While every continent has at least a handful of countries that are eligible for the DV Lottery, there is one continent that has benefited from the DV Lottery in particular: Africa. Between 1995 and 2009, an average of 19,138 Africans immigrated to the US through the program every year. That number represents approximately 40 percent of all newly arriving African migrants to the U.S. in that time period. In 1991, a total of 27,086 African migrants obtained LPR status. In 2009, that number was 122,804 – an increase of 453 percent. The Diversity Visa Lottery has been the single biggest driver of that rapid growth.
African immigration is important to the advancement of urban communities in the United States. Various organizations such as the African advocacy organization Cameroon American Council supports the lottery primarily because of its importance in fostering African immigration to the U.S. Between 1995 and 2009, approximately half of all DV Lottery winners came from Africa, and approximately half of all African migrants to the U.S. came through the DV Lottery.
The Diversity Visa Program does what it was intended to do; it diversifies immigration to the United States. I believe very strongly that this is a benefit to the United States. Advocacy groups strongly emphasize the program’s benefits in terms of diversity while declining to comment on the qualifications of DV migrants. However, the single most important reason for the level of support for the lottery, however, is its importance in stimulating African immigration.
The U.S. Senate stripped the Diversity Visa out of the Senate version of the Immigration bill back in July 2013. As it sits in the U.S. House for a vote advocates who supports the Diversity Visa cannot sit back and be quiet on such an important issue. While we need to fully engage our federal lawmakers on preserving the diversity visa we also must get ready to view several options to ensure the flow of African immigrants into the United States.
One such option is the African Immigration Equity Act. This Act would increase the annual allocation of immigrant visas to persons from Africa in an attempt to partially redress the historical inequity rooted in our immigration laws, particularly the national origin quotas of enacted in 1920 and 1924. This idea originated from Mark Silverman, works at a pro-immigrant legal resource center in San Francisco. When this discussion was on the table nearly 10 years ago Silverman advised Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee from Houston, Texas that the best way increase levels of African migration to the United States would be to amend the DV Lottery to allocate more visas to African countries.
Can this African Immigration Equity Act be implemented on a federal level with a partisan Congress in place? That question remains in limbo. An alternative, however, is to look into implementing regional visas to increase African immigration. The Manhattan Institute, a urban think tank in New York, pointed out how the federal government could let state governments sponsor regional visas. Like H-1B employment visas, regional visas would last three years and could be extended to six years. The visas would be “dual-intent,” meaning that holders could apply for permanent residency (and eventually citizenship). The states would sponsor these visas according to their own economic needs, reserving the right to require visa holders to live in specific cities or regions. Visa holders would have to find full-time employment and remain in good standing under American law. They would be free to bring dependents for the duration of their time in the United States.
1 way of looking at Immigration Reform.