The House passed a bill on Friday that would abolish the immigrant “diversity lottery” and replace it with a new program that would give green cards (permanent legal residency) to certain foreign-born science and technology graduates of U.S. schools.
An unwise policy since its inception in 1986, the diversity lottery—the full name is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program—is perhaps the least rational component of the U.S. immigration system.
The lottery randomly distributes green cards to up to 55,000 applicants worldwide each year.
True to its name, the diversity lottery is not open to residents of countries that already send thousands of immigrants each year through other categories of admission. Countries not automatically excluded are given visas in proportion to their region’s immigration rarity—the fewer regular immigrants a region sends, the more diversity visas it receives. Aside from living in an eligible country, the only requirement for lottery applicants is a high school degree or two years working at a job that requires two years of training to hold.
The lottery is not consistent with any broadly shared goal of immigration policy. The three main kinds of legal immigrants the U.S. currently accepts are people with family members already in the U.S. (66 percent of immigrants in 2010), workers with desirable skills (14 percent), and refugees (13 percent). A better mix of selection factors would give more emphasis to skill-based immigration, but the diversity lottery involves no selection at all. It does not make the workforce more skilled, reunite families, or further any humanitarian goals. Its exclusive purpose is to increase the diversity of immigrants’ national origins.
The U.S. should not seek immigrant diversity simply for the sake of diversity. A random and haphazard approach to diversity is certainly not in the national interest.