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What is this “Diversity Visa Program” that President Trump is Talking About?

dreamstime_xs_62076674-copyOn Halloween, 2017, an Uzbek immigrant purposely killed eight people in New York City with a rental truck he rented from The Home Depot as he drove down a bike path in lower Manhattan and mowed down several people before crashing into a school bus.  Reports indicated that the 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant, Sayfullo Saipov, had entered the United States through what is called the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program” (the “DV program”).

The dust had barely settled on the tragedy, and President Trump tweeted, “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.”  Not surprisingly, Senator Schumer immediately shot back, “I guess it’s not too soon to politicize a tragedy.”

So what exactly is the DV program that’s now being politicized?  The diversity immigrant category was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) by the Immigration Act of 1990.  Its purpose was to stimulate “new seed” immigration (basically, to foster new, more varied, immigration from under-represented parts of the world).

To accomplish this, the DV program makes 50,000 immigrant visas (i.e., “Green Cards”) available annually to individuals of countries from which immigrant admissions were lower than a total of 50,000 over the preceding five years. The visas are divided among six global geographic regions according to the relative populations of the regions, with their allocation weighted in favor of countries in regions that were under-represented among immigrant admissions to the United States during the past five years. The INA limits each country to 7%, or 3,850, of the total, and further provides that Northern Ireland be treated as a separate foreign state for DV program purposes.

The qualifications are quite (or I should say deceptively) simple.  First, an individual needs to be from a country that is allowed to participate in the DV program.  Second, the principal DV applicant must have a high school education, or its equivalent, or two years of qualifying work experience as defined under U.S. law.[1]   The program has its supporters and detractors.  Its supporters argue that the DV program provides “new seed” immigrants for an immigration system that’s weighted disproportionately in favor of family-based immigrants from a handful of countries.  Detractors argue that the program is vulnerable to fraud and misuse and, as President Trump is now tweeting, is potentially an avenue for terrorists, noting the difficulties of performing background checks in many of the countries eligible for the diversity lottery.[2]  The program’s supporters counter that background checks for criminal and national security matters are performed on all prospective immigrants seeking to come to the United States, including those who have won diversity visas.

We’re now in the 2019 DV program.  Approximately 14 million people around the world will apply for a visa.[3]  Only 0.3% of them will be successful.  Anecdotally the DV program has been referred to as the “golden ticket”.

We can debate the policy of whether the DV program should stay or go.  While the President quickly pointed his finger at Senator Schumer for being responsible for the DV program, what he failed (of course) to point out was that the legislation was overwhelming supported by Congress in 1990, and then signed into law by then Republican President George H.W. Bush.  President Trump also failed to mention that proposed legislation passed by the Senate in 2014 (but which did not pass the House), led by the now defunct Gang of Eight (of which Sen. Schumer was a member), would have canceled this program.

In my view, canceling the DV program is not the answer to our problems, and will not make our country safer.  The same laws are in effect to screen potential immigrants from all countries, regardless of the type visa that they enter the United States.  Rather than pointing fingers in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy (which the President was not willing to do after the Las Vegas shooting when gun control would have been at issue), we should focus on the root causes to prevent future attacks and to protect all Americans from those who seek to do us harm.

 

[1] An individual qualifying with work experience must have two years of experience in the last five years in an occupation which, by U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) definitions, requires at least two years of training or experience that is designated as Job Zone 4 or 5, classified in a Specific Vocational Preparation (“SVP”) rating of 7.0 or higher.  The USDOL provides information on job duties, knowledge and skills, education and training, and other occupational characteristics on their website http://www.onetonline.org/. The O*Net online database groups work experience into five “job zones”.  While many occupations are listed, only certain specified occupations qualify for the DV Program.

[2] In the “for what it’s worth” column, nationals of Uzbekistan have not been singled-out in any of President Trump’s travel ban associated executive orders … so far.

[3] In FY2015, the last year for which statistics are available, close to 14.5 million people from around the world applied for the 50,000 available visas.


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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

David W. Meyers, Esq. is managing partner of Meyers & Meyers, LLP. David works with individuals, businesses and higher education institutions helping them resolve any issues regarding immigration, citizenship and naturalization for themselves or their employees.

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