Diversity Immigrant Visa
The Diversity Immigrant Visa program is a United States congressionally mandated lottery program for receiving a United States Permanent Resident Card. It is also known as the Green Card Lottery. The lottery is administered on an annual basis by the Department of State and conducted under the terms of Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Section 131 of the Immigration Act of 1990 (Pub. L. 101-649) amended INA 203 to provide for a new class of immigrants known as "diversity immigrants" (DV immigrants). The lottery makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to natives of countries deemed to have low rates of immigration to the United States.
Starting in 1986, the United States established several temporary immigrant visa programs outside of the usual immigration preferences (family members or by employment). The first program was NP-5, run from 1987 to 1989, where a limited number of visas was issued on a first-come, first-served basis. The second program was OP-1, run through a lottery from 1989 to 1991 and available for natives of countries with low levels of recent immigration to the United States. The third program, AA-1, ran from 1992 to 1994 and was available for natives from a select group of countries that had been "adversely affected" by earlier immigration laws. Intentionally and in practice, people from Ireland and Northern Ireland benefited disproportionally from these programs. They were also known as the Donnelly, Berman and Morrison visas, respectively, after the congressmen who sponsored each one.
The Immigration Act of 1990 established the current and permanent Diversity Visa (DV) program, where 55,000 immigrant visas (later reduced to 50,000) are available in an annual lottery. It is also known as the Schumer program, after its sponsor. The lottery aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States, by selecting applicants mostly from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States in the previous five years.
The first DV lottery, for fiscal year 1995, was named DV-1. For fiscal years 1996 to 1999, the name was in the format DV-YY, where YY was the last two digits of the year. The lotteries since fiscal year 2000 have been named in the format DV-YYYY, with the full year number. The year in the name refers to the fiscal year when the immigrant visas will be given, which starts in October of the previous calendar year, and the entry period for the lottery occurs almost a year earlier. Therefore, there is a two-year difference between the lottery name and its entry period. For example, for DV-2017 (fiscal year starting in October 2016), the entry period was in 2015.
Initially, the DV lottery was administered entirely by mail, and only winners were notified. The entry form moved to an online system starting in DV-2005, but still only winners were notified, by mail. Starting in DV-2010, all applicants are able to verify online whether they were selected.
To enter the lottery, applicants must have been born in an eligible country. If selected, to qualify for the immigrant visa, they must have completed at least a high school education or at least two years of work experience in an occupation which requires at least two other years of training or experience. They must also satisfy general immigration requirements, such as means of support, no criminal background, and good health.
Eligibility is determined by the applicant's country of birth. In some cases the applicant may use a parent's or spouse's country of birth instead. The country of residence or nationality is irrelevant.
Those born in any territory that has sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the previous five years are not eligible to receive a diversity visa. For DV-2017, natives of the following nations are ineligible: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.
The term 50,000 "immigrants" refers only to people who immigrated via the family-sponsored, employment, or immediate relatives of U.S. citizen categories, and does not include other categories such as refugees, asylum seekers, NACARA beneficiaries, or previous diversity immigrants. It is for this reason that Cuba, Iraq, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Iran, Nepal and Guatemala are not on the ineligible list as of 2016 despite sending over 50,000 immigrants in the previous five years.
The first program was in fiscal year 1995, and the following 13 countries were ineligible from the start: Canada, China (mainland), Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Since then, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Peru have been added to the ineligible list and are currently on it, Taiwan has been removed from it, and Guatemala, Poland, and Russia have been on it at times, reflecting the changing levels of immigration from these countries.
Changes to the list of countries over the years include the following:
- DV-1996: Colombia now ineligible.
- DV-1998: Poland now ineligible.
- DV-2002: Poland and Taiwan now eligible, Pakistan ineligible.
- DV-2004: East Timor added, eligible.
- DV-2005: Russia now ineligible.
- DV-2007: Poland again ineligible.
- DV-2008: Brazil and Peru now ineligible; Serbia and Montenegro listed separately, both eligible.
- DV-2009: Ecuador and Guatemala now ineligible.
- DV-2010: Russia now eligible; Kosovo added, eligible.
- DV-2013: Poland again eligible, Bangladesh now ineligible; South Sudan added, eligible.
- DV-2014: Guatemala again eligible.
- DV-2015: Nigeria now ineligible.
Of the world's most populous countries, most countries down to the Philippines (12th) are now ineligible, with the exception of Indonesia (4th), Russia (9th) and Japan (10th). The next ranked countries such as Ethiopia (13th), Egypt (15th), Democratic Republic of the Congo (16th) and Iran (18th) are among the heaviest users of the lottery; each of these were assigned close to the maximum possible ~4,500 openings for DV-2015 (along with Liberia, Nepal, Ukraine and Uzbekistan).
Distribution and lottery process
The visas are distributed among six regions:
- Europe (including Turkey, Cyprus, and all countries in the former Soviet Union)
- Latin America (Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America)
- North America (consisting only of Canada and the Bahamas)
Dependent territories are treated as part of their respective sovereign countries, and disputed territories are allocated as recognized by the United States. For example, Bermuda is treated as part of the United Kingdom under Europe, the Gaza Strip is considered part of Egypt under Africa, and the West Bank is considered part of Jordan under Asia. However, there are some exceptions: Northern Ireland, Hong Kong and Taiwan are treated as separate countries, and Macau is considered part of Portugal under Europe (even after its sovereignty returned to China in 1999).
Each region that sent more than one sixth of the total number of immigrants to the United States in the previous five years is considered a "high-admission region" (currently Latin America and Asia), and each region that sent less than one sixth is a "low-admission region" (currently North America, Europe, Africa and Oceania). The proportion of diversity visas given to the low-admission group is set as the proportion of recent immigrants from the high-admission group (currently about 80%), and vice versa. Among regions of the same group, the diversity visas are allocated proportionally to their population, excluding ineligible countries (those that sent more than 50,000 immigrants in the previous five years).
Within each region, the visas are not allocated among individual countries. All applicants from the same region are selected randomly as a whole, for the number of visas allocated for that region. However, there is a limitation that no single country may receive more than 7% of the total diversity visas (3,500).
Although only 50,000 diversity visas are available each year, the lottery selects more than 100,000 applicants. The reason for the larger selection is to ensure that all 50,000 diversity visas are eventually given each year, since some applicants may not satisfy general immigration requirements or may decide not to continue the process. As a result, some lottery winners might not obtain a visa.
In December 2005, the United States House of Representatives voted 273–148 to add an amendment to the border enforcement bill H.R. 4437 abolishing the DV. Opponents of the lottery said it was susceptible to fraud and was a way for terrorists to enter the country. The Senate never passed the bill.
The terrorist Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an immigrant from Egypt, a country not on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, was among the beneficiaries of the program. A 2007 GAO report stated: “In 2003, State’s Inspector General raised concerns that aliens from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism can apply for diversity visas. Nearly 9,800 persons from these countries have obtained permanent residency in the United States through the program. We found no documented evidence that DV immigrants from these, or other, countries posed a terrorist or other threat.” Immigrants coming to the United States in the other LPR visa categories are not restricted if they come from these same countries and ... background checks for national security risks are performed on all prospective immigrants seeking to come to the United States
In March 2007, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced H.R. 1430, which would eliminate the diversity visa program. In June 2007, the U.S. House passed H.R. 2764 to eliminate funding for the program, and the Senate did likewise in September. However, the final version of this bill with amendments, signed into law on December 26, 2007, did not include the removal of funds for the program. Several attempts have been made over the last several years to eliminate the lottery. Although H.R. 2764 was an appropriation bill and could only cut funds for the lottery during one fiscal year, this was the first time that both the House and the Senate passed a bill to halt the diversity visa program. H.R. 2764
Rep. Goodlatte reintroduced his Security and Fairness Enhancement for America Act (formerly H.R. 1430, now H.R. 2305) on May 7, 2009. The bill would have amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the diversity immigrant program completely, but did not pass.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) introduced the Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2009 (H.R. 264) on January 7, 2009. The bill would have doubled the number of diversity visas available to 110,000 yearly. The bill did not pass.
If it had passed, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 would have abolished the program in fiscal year 2015.
A comprehensive analysis of DV lottery issues has been prepared by Congressional Research Service.
Frauds and scams
There is no charge to enter the diversity visa lottery, and the only way to do so is by completing and sending the electronic form available at the U.S. Department of State's website during the registration period. However, there are numerous companies and websites that charge a fee in order to complete the form for the applicant. The Department of State and the Federal Trade Commission have warned that some of these businesses falsely claim to increase someone's chances of winning the lottery, or that they are affiliated with the U.S. government.
There have also been numerous cases of fraudulent emails and letters which falsely claim to have been sent by the Department of State and that the recipient has been granted a Permanent Resident Card. These messages prompt the recipients to transfer a "visa processing fee" as a prerequisite for obtaining a "guaranteed" green card. The messages are sometimes sent to people who never participated in the lottery and can look trustworthy as they contain the recipient's exact name and contact details and what appears to be a legal notice.
The Department of State has issued a warning against the scammers. It notes that any email claiming the recipient to be a winner of the lottery is fake because the Department has never notified and will not notify winners by email. The Department has urged recipients of such messages to notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center about the scam.
According to Testimony of Stephen A. Edson before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement Hearing on the Diversity Visa Program, regarding the 2012 DV lottery results, "in Bangladesh, for example, one agent is reported to have enrolled an entire phone book so that he could then either extort money from winning applicants who had never entered the program to begin with or sell their winning slots to others". 
Criticism of the DV Lottery system
Until DV-2010, there was no means by which an applicant could check the status of an application. Only those selected in the lottery were notified, by mail. However, starting with DV-2010 the applicant receives a confirmation number after a successful application is submitted. This number can be used to check the application status online from May 3. This was a long-awaited feature since many postal services in developing or politically unstable countries are neither effective nor trustworthy.
Also, there have been arguments by longtime temporary legal residents in the United States against the fairness of the DV program. A situation where high skilled (H-1B and L-1 visas) workers and taxpayers remain on temporary visas in the US for years (in some cases, more than a decade) with no clear path to becoming permanent residents while 50,000 random people are picked around the world and handed permanent resident status questions the fairness of the US immigration system. The odds of winning a diversity immigration visa is based on national origin of current U.S. residents descended from such countries. Hence, for example, Asia has a small quota since countries with large populations (China, India, Pakistan) are excluded.
- DV Lottery Timeline, Preceden.
- Immigrants to get visas by lottery, The New York Times, March 1, 1989.
- For illegal Irish immigrants, a time to test that luck, The New York Times, March 17, 1989.
- Irish Immigrants in New York City, 1945–1995, Linda Dowling Almeida, Indiana University Press, 2001.
- Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery (DV-1) Results, United States Department of State, October 19, 1994.
- Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery (DV-96) Results, United States Department of State.
- Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery (DV-97) Results, United States Department of State, September 13, 1996.
- Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery (DV-98) Results, United States Department of State, September 10, 1997.
- Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery (DV-99) Results, United States Department of State, May 6, 1998.
- Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery (DV-2000) Results, United States Department of State, May 24, 1999.
- Instructions for the 2017 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV-2017), United States Department of State.
- 9 FAM 502.6, U.S. Department of State.
- Department of State Announces Diversity Visa Lottery (DV-2010) Registration, United States Department of State, November 17, 2008.
- Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Immigration and Nationality Act 203(c), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents: 2014, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, April 2016.
- Diversity Visa Program Statistics, United States Department of State.
- "Shredded visa data could give terror tips". Reading Eagle. 22 August 2002. p. A9.
- "GAO-07-1174 Border Security: Fraud Risks Complicate State's Ability to Manage Diversity Visa Program" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-27.
- Wasem, Ruth Ellen (1 April 2011). "Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Issues" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- VOA News Archived November 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2009 (H.R. 264): Title X—Diversity Visas". United States House of Representatives. THOMAS. January 7, 2009. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- Diversity Visa Lottery: Read the Rules, Avoid the Rip-Offs, U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
- "Department of State warning of scam emails". Contact-us.state.gov. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
- "Report of Inspection, Embassy of Ukraine, Kyiv, 2013" (PDF).
- "Report of Inspection, Embassy of Ghana, Accra, 2009" (PDF).
- "Report of Inspection, Embassy of Albania, Tirana, 2010" (PDF).
- "Testimony of Stephen A Edson Before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement Hearing on the Diversity Visa Program" (PDF). Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- "Diversity Visa Program and Its Susceptibility to Fraud and Abuse". Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims of the Committee on the Judiciary. United States House of Representatives. April 29, 2004.
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