U.S. Diversity-Visa Lottery Requests Near Record

The U.S. State Department says that since 2005, more than 200 million people from countries around the world have applied for the U.S. diversity lottery, which seeks to diversify the nation’s immigrant population by granting visas to immigrants from nations that are underrepresented among recently arrived immigrants. Overall, nearly 1% of people in eligible countries applied for the program. Irrespective of the program, and there are many ways to get a Green Card or Citizenship, immigration is vital to the economy of the U.S. and the automobile business.

Eight countries had at least a million applicants in 2016, accounting for more than half of the total: Ghana, Uzbekistan, Iran, Ukraine, Egypt, Nepal, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. (2016 is the most recent year for which country-specific data on applications are available.)

Under a different, centuries old in many countries – and now a thoroughly politicized program, President Trump is and has been using rages against “chain migration” to feed his base (both the political sense and the moral sense). Trump apparently now wants to end family-preference immigration visas, after his his in-laws Viktor and Amalija Knavs were granted U.S. citizenship through the first lady’s sponsorship.

A significant portion of the population in some countries applied for the diversity visa lottery in 2016. Liberia saw nearly 15% of the country’s citizens applied for the program. Other African countries with high shares of applicants:

  • Sierra Leone (14%) and Ghana (8%).

European countries also saw substantial shares of their populations submit applications:

  • Albania (13%),
  • Moldova (11%)
  • Armenia (9%).

In Asia the highest shares:

  • Uzbekistan (7%)
  • Nepal (4%)

Among diversity visas issued, the regional breakdown of where immigrants come from has changed over time, according to State Department figures. (The department sets regional quotas annually based on how many immigrants from a region have come to the U.S. in recent years.)

When the diversity lottery first started in fiscal year 1995, citizens of European countries, including those that were part of the former Soviet Union, received the largest number of diversity visas (about 24,000).

In fiscal 2016, which ended Sept. 30, citizens of African countries received more visas (about 21,000) than those from Europe (about 15,000).

In fiscal 2017, citizens of European countries once again received the most diversity visas of any region in the world (nearly 21,000).

The U.S. diversity lottery accounts for a relatively small share – about 5% – of the roughly 1 million people awarded green cards each year. Though small in size, the program is unusual because it places few restrictions on who can receive a green card (principal applicants must, in general, have a high school education or two years of recent work experience).

Other nations, by contrast, prioritize work skills, family relationships or humanitarian need when awarding lawful permanent residence. (New Zealand also has a visa lottery program, but it is much smaller and open only to citizens of neighboring island nations.)

How This Program Works

Since fiscal 1995, diversity visa lottery applications are accepted for several weeks each year, usually in the fall. Visa recipients are then randomly selected and can enter the U.S. roughly two years after their initial application.  Thus, lottery winners who applied in the calendar year 2017 have until Sept. 30, 2019, to obtain their diversity visa. (Detailed application statistics are only available back to applications filed in 2005.)

Those eligible for the lottery face few barriers with the initial application, which has no fee, is available in many languages and asks for limited personal information. If selected for a diversity visa, however, applicants must submit to detailed background and security checks, interviews and health screenings and pay $330. Upon entry into the U.S., diversity visa recipients are given lawful permanent residence status, which gives them permission to work and live permanently in the U.S.

The biggest restriction of the diversity visa lottery is that the applicant or their spouse must be citizens of countries that have sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. over the previous five years. As a result, those from:

  • Mexico,
  • Canada,
  • China
  • India

The top origin countries for U.S. immigrants in recent years – are not eligible.

The list of eligible countries can change each year. For example, due to increased immigration to the U.S., citizens of Bangladesh became ineligible for the lottery starting in 2011, and those from Nigeria became ineligible since 2013.

Others can gain eligibility for the lottery if immigration to the U.S. slows, as was the case with citizens of Russia who became eligible beginning in 2008, while those from Poland could apply starting in 2012.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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