A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

15 Million Entrants in 2012 Visa Lottery

The U.S. Department of State recently reported that there are about 15 million individuals who submitted applications to enter the Diversity Visa Program of 2012 (DV-2012). This is a record number for the program in recent years. Such a large number of applicants for the U.S. green card have attracted public and media attention. For example, the Wall Street Journal printed a story about the visa lottery program in November, highlighting the opposite view points of the advocates and opponents of the program.

The Diversity Visa Program, commonly known as the visa lottery, is established in 1990 by section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It sets aside 50,000 immigrant visas every year to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The number of entrants to the program has increased steadily over the past five years. For 2007 and 2008, the State Department received 5.5 and 6.4 million applications respectively from worldwide countries. As noted by the WSJ, the increase from 2007 to 2012 is almost 2.5 times. Such a drastic increase does not seem right in light of the current U.S. economic environment. For most immigrants, economic motivation is a major reason for moving to another country. In fact, the State Department recently reported that many family-based immigration petitions have been abandoned in recent years after years of long wait. Therefore it is hard to explain why 15 million people would want to enter into the visa lottery drawing of 2012, which had a filing deadline of November 3, 2010.

Some experts explain that there are two reasons for such an increase in number of visa lottery applications. First, the program has been established for about 20 years and it has become widely advertised and known in different countries. For example, the WSJ article reports that the program is promoted and advertised outside internet cafe and other places in Africa and Asia, drawing a lot of attention from local residents. Secondly, the Internet has also facilitated the spread of the news about the Diversity Visa Program faster to more people than before. The number of Internet users has increased from 360 million in 2000 to 6.8 trillion in 2010. Since the visa lottery application must be submitted online, the Internet also makes it more efficient for applicants to submit the application to the State Department.

The top five countries with the most visa lottery applicants are Bangladesh (7.67 million), Nigeria (1.47 million), Ukraine (0.76 million), Ethiopia (0.58 million), and Egypt (0.34 million). These are mostly economically disadvantaged countries. A visa to immigrate to the U.S. can be quite attractive to applicants from these countries. Indeed, despite the current economic downturn, the U.S. is still the world’s largest economy and a place of opportunities. For examples, WSJ article features a few previous winners of the visa lottery who are trying to achieve their American dream. An Ethiopian winner has become a U.S. citizen and is preparing to attend college while working as a taxi driver. A 29-year-old Israeli is running an Internet start-up company in San Francisco.

Critics of the visa lottery program believe the program poses security risks, attracts uneducated immigrants, and allows individuals with no connection to the U.S. to get into the country more quickly than those sponsored by relatives and employers. Some legislatives are actually trying to pass laws to abolish the program completely, using today’s high unemployment rates as support. If diversity is something that we value as Americans, the Diversity Visa Program still has its place in the immigration system.

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