Explainer: The Facts Behind The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program

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(Image/U.S. Department of State)

The way that President Donald Trump and anti-immigrant talking heads are taking advantage of Tuesday’s terror attack is not only disgraceful, but it is also spreading misinformation behind the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

Anna Law, writing for Politico, said the idea that the lottery is an open door for terrorists is wrong and historically inaccurate.

“Visa lottery winners undergo the same admissions procedures as any greencard recipient who obtains the status through family, employment or humanitarian admissions. Lottery winners are interviewed at length by the State Department overseas. Their backgrounds are also checked by the FBI before they are admitted to the U.S., as with any other greencard recipient,” Law wrote.

Law further explains that the program’s foundations lay in lawmakers’ attempts to help Irish and Italian immigrants, whose homelands suddenly found themselves limited to 20,000 permanent immigrants per year after the Immigration Act of 1965.

To further break down the program, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) published this FAQ that shows the extensive and methodical vetting that applicants must go through:

Q: What is the Diversity Visa program?
A: The Diversity Visa lottery program provides an opportunity to a limited number of immigrants from countries with historically low immigration rates, who meet specific merit-based criteria to come to the United States. The random, computer-selected lottery winners receive an immigrant visa provided that they pass extensive background checks, satisfy eligibility requirements, and qualify under the government’s general rules for visas. Only 50,000 diversity visas are awarded each year. Over the last decade, an average of 16 million people have applied each year for the annual lottery; during the application period for fiscal year 2017, about 19 million people applied for the Diversity Visa program.

Q: When was the Diversity Visa program created?
A: The diversity immigrant category was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 under the guidance of President George H. W. Bush to stimulate immigration from parts of the world that are under-represented in the U.S. When signing the bill, President Bush said, “This act recognizes the fundamental importance and historic contributions of immigrants to our country.”

Q: What are the requirements to receive a Diversity Visa?
A: Diversity Visa applicants must have a high school education, its equivalent, or two years of qualifying work experience as defined under provisions of U.S. law. Those selected for a Diversity Visa must also complete and pass a consular interview and a medical examination, pay a $330 fee and not be otherwise inadmissible according the U.S. immigration law. There are no special provisions for the waiver of any ground of visa ineligibility. The Diversity Visa is a merit-based immigration program.

Q: Who has benefited from the Diversity Visa program?
A: The Diversity Visa plays an integral role in keeping the possibility of the American Dream alive for individuals from countries who are under-represented in our immigration system. Individuals from African countries received the most Diversity Visas in 2015. If a country has had more than 50,000 of its citizens immigrate to the United States in the previous five years, it is not eligible for the Diversity Visa program.

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