[Excerpt] The purpose of the diversity immigrant visa lottery is, as the name suggests, to encourage legal immigration from countries other than the major sending countries of current immigrants to the United States. Current law weights the allocation of immigrant visas heavily toward aliens with close family in the United States and, to a lesser extent, toward aliens who meet particular employment needs. The diversity immigrant category was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by the Immigration Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-649) to stimulate “new seed” immigration (i.e., to foster new, more varied migration from other parts of the world).
To be eligible for a diversity visa, the INA requires that the foreign national must have a high school education or the equivalent, or two years experience in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience. The foreign national or the foreign national’s spouse must be a native of one of the countries listed as a foreign state qualified for the diversity visa lottery. Diversity lottery winners, like all other aliens wishing to come to the United States, must undergo reviews performed by Department of State consular officers abroad and Department of Homeland Security immigration officers upon entry to the United States. These reviews are intended to ensure that the aliens are not ineligible for visas or admission under the grounds for inadmissibility spelled out in the INA.
The diversity lottery currently makes 50,000 visas available annually to natives of countries from which immigrant admissions were lower than a total of 50,000 over the preceding five years. The formula for allocating visas is based upon the statutory specifications; 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 provides that Northern Ireland be treated as a separate foreign state.
The regional distribution of the source countries for diversity immigrants has shifted over time in the four years selected for comparison (FY1994, FY1999, FY2004, and FY2009). Foreign nationals from Europe garnered the overwhelming share of the diversity visas in FY1994 and maintained a plurality share in FY1999. By FY2004, foreign nationals from Africa received a share comparable to those from Europe. In FY2009, foreign nationals from Africa gained the plurality share.
Some argue that the diversity lottery should be eliminated and its visas used for backlog reduction in other visa categories. Supporters of the diversity visa, however, argue that the diversity visa provides “new seed” immigrants for an immigration system weighted disproportionately to family-based immigrants from a handful of countries. Critics of the diversity lottery warn that it is vulnerable to fraud and misuse and is potentially an avenue for terrorists, citing the difficulties of performing background checks in many of the countries eligible for the diversity lottery. Supporters respond that background checks for criminal and national security matters are performed on all prospective immigrants seeking to come to the United States, including those winning diversity visas.