Nov 22, 2017 - Politics & Policy
Facts Matter

The big questions surrounding diversity visas

The Statue of Liberty, a longstanding symbol welcoming immigrants to the United States. Photo: Richard Drew / AP

Today is the deadline to apply for the 2019 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program lottery. President Trump has called on Congress to "terminate" the program, after it was reported that alleged Manhattan attacker Sayfullo Saipov entered the U.S. from Uzbekistan on a diversity visa.

The big picture: Trump said he favors replacing the program with "merit-based immigration" and "extreme vetting," and he blamed Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer for shepherding the program through Congress, but the existing system does include a vetting process and received bipartisan support when it was passed. Here are the big questions surround the program, and their answers:

What is it?

The diversity visa program uses a lottery system to select individuals from countries "with historically low rates of immigration to the United States." The countries on that list span six regions — Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, North America and South America — and can be viewed here. Each year, 50,000 visas are awarded, and no one country can receive more than 7% of them. Countries from which more than 50,000 people have emigrated to the U.S. in the last five years are taken off the list.

Who's eligible?

Each applicant must be a native of one of the eligible countries or the spouse of a native. Applicants can also claim eligibility if their parents are natives of an eligible country and neither were residents of the county the applicant was born in at the time the applicant was born.

There are also certain merit requirements. Applicants must have at least a high-school-level education or "two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform."

When was it created?

The morning after the Manhattan attack, Trump tweeted, "We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems." He called the diversity visa program "a Chuck Schumer beauty."

The diversity visa program was launched as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 and signed into law by then-President George H.W. Bush. Schumer was the lead sponsor on the original House bill, per PolitiFact. But the program earned yes votes from then-Rep. Newt Gingrich as well as Sens. Mitch McConnell, Thad Cochran, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch and John McCain.

During an effort to overhaul the immigration system in 2013, Schumer was part of the "gang of eight" congressional leaders who put the lottery program on the chopping block, as Sen. Jeff Flake pointed out to Trump. That bill was killed in the House.

What's the vetting process?

Recipients of diversity visas are vetted through the same process as any other visa recipients, constitutional studies professor Anna Law told the Atlantic. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that the White House opposes the program because it "randomly select[s] people without thorough vetting."

What's next?

Trump has called on Congress to take immediate action in terminating the diversity visa program. In August, Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue introduced a bill to eliminate the program in favor of a point-based system for employment visas which would make it difficult for low-skilled immigrants to come to the U.S., CNN reports. Trump has endorsed the Cotton-Perdue bill.

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