Republicans in Congress Seek to End Green Card Lottery

02 March, 2017

Every year, about 14 million people from around the world try to win one of 50,000 Diversity Immigrant Visas. These visas let the winners live and work in the United States. The program is best known as the "green card lottery." The chance of winning is about 0.3 percent.

Some Republican lawmakers want to cancel the lottery. Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia have written legislation that would end the 22-year-old visa program. The proposal also calls for lowering the number of immigrants and refugees permitted to enter the U.S. every year.

Members of the House of Representatives have also written a bill that would end the diversity visa program. It is called the SAFE for America Act.

Both Republicans and Democrats also tried to end the lottery last year.

However, those measures were included in other legislation that Congress did not approve.

But unlike last year, Republicans now control Congress and the White House. Since becoming president, Donald Trump has worked to make changes in the country's immigration program.

So Republicans have once again decided to try to stop the visa program. The senate proposal is called the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, or RAISE Act. In a statement announcing the bill, the senators said it would "help raise American workers' wages."

"We are taking action to fix some of the shortcomings in our legal immigration system," Perdue said. "Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages."

But some researchers say it is difficult to prove there is a link between immigration and jobs and wages.

Critics of the diversity visa program say people requesting the visa are sometimes victims of fraud. And they say some people lie on their applications. The U.S. government reported on fraud in the program ten years ago. The State Department later improved the application process to reduce such wrongdoing.

The diversity visa is one of the only ways foreigners can legally move to the US if they are not refugees or do not have sponsors. Lottery winners must have a high school education or a work history to qualify to come to the United States. They also must be able to pay for travel to the United States and visa fees.

In 2015, the U.S. gave 48,097 diversity visas. That is less than ten percent of the 531,463 total immigrant visas given that year.

The lottery was designed to encourage immigration to America from countries that send few immigrants to the U.S.

People from countries that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the past five years are not permitted to enter the lottery. These countries include Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic and El Salvador.

The others are Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Peru, South Korea and Vietnam. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom from which people can enter the lottery.

The announcement about the RAISE bill followed President Trump's executive order targeting immigrants. Many people have protested the order. But groups that support restrictions on immigration support it. Many of these groups have been working for years to cancel the diversity visa program.

Earlier attempts to cancel the program would have shifted the visas to employment-based visas. But the RAISE Act does not do that. It calls for cuts in family preference visas and refugee admissions as well as elimination of the diversity lottery.

It adds a new visa, which would permit the foreign-born parents of adult U.S. citizens to visit for renewable five-year periods. They would not be given citizenship and would not be able to work in the United States.

Tekleab Elos Hailu entered the lottery a few times before winning it. He has three children. He is from Eritrea. His wife is Ethiopian. They entered the lottery while he was studying at a graduate school in Britain, following a war between their home countries in the late 1990s.

When he entered the United States he worked as a security guard. But was eventually able to continue his studies. During these studies he researched the experiences of others who won the diversity lottery. He earned a doctorate degree. He now works at a community college in Colorado.

Diversity immigrants usually are well-paid in their home countries because of the education or work experience requirements. They also must have enough money to for pay green card fees, health examinations and travel. Hailu says that means they will be good for the United States.

In his words, "they sacrifice what they have had in their own countries, just to bring change for their children. On the other hand, the United States gains from people who have been educated, without spending any money on these people." So, he asks, why end the program?

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Immigration Reporter Victoria Macchi reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. (Name) was the editor.

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Words in This Story

green card – n. a card indicating that a person from a foreign country can live and work in the U.S.

lottery – n. a system used to decide who will get or be given something by choosing names or numbers by chance

shortcoming – n. a bad feature; a flaw or defect in something

fraud – n. a person who pretends to be what he or she is not in order to trick people; the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person

sponsor – v. to be a sponsor for (something or someone); taking the responsibility for someone or something

qualify – v. to have the right to do, have or be a part of something

prefer – v. to like (someone or something) better than someone or something else; to choose something over something else

renewable – adj. able to be extended for another time period; able to be renewed

contribute – v. to give (something, such as money, goods, or time) to help a person, group, cause or organization