Congress should abolish the Diversity Visa Program
Helen Raleigh  | November 04, 2017

The Immigration Act of 1990, section 131, established the Diversity Visa (DV) program, which is also called the Visa Lottery program. The program’s stated goal was to bring individuals to the U.S. from nations that had been sending few immigrants in the past. The word “diversity” here refers not to race, but to country of origin. Every year, this program awards about 50,000 foreign nationals permanent residency in the U.S. based on pure luck. The U.S. is the only country in the world to actively recruit immigrants in such fashion.

There are many problems with this program, including but not limited to the following:

It serves no national interests. Anyone can apply as long as his or her home country is not on the exclusion list. There is no cost to register. The admission criteria are very low. The program requires the principal DV applicant to have only a high school education or its equivalent, and two years of any kind of work experience. Applicants are admitted based on luck, not on either humanitarian needs or skills. Applicants do not have to show any family tie with the U.S.

The program is heaven for fraudsters. Since there is no limit to how many times a person can enter the lottery, many foreign nationals apply for the program multiple times and use different aliases and other false personal information. Illegal immigrants are eligible to apply as well. The State Department has issued fraud warnings due to an increasing number of fraudulent emails and letters sent to applicants that falsely promise success to applicants in exchange for large sums of money.

The program is an administrative nightmare. It drew more than 14 million applicants in both 2014 and 2015. Some of the countries that have consistently produced over a million lottery entries year after year are Nigeria, Ghana, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. Even a small country like Nepal (population 28 million) submitted close to 900,000 lottery entries in 2015. It is a huge burden to process these applications and verify their information. Although the annual number of visas allocated to this program is 50,000, the State Department normally selects about 100,000 applicants on a random basis in the first round. These applicants are then interviewed and undergo background checks and medical exams. The first 50,000 deemed eligible will receive visas. Since applicants do not pay any fee to enter the lottery, all the costs of time and personnel are borne by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, agencies that are already overwhelmed.

National security threats. This program encourages immigration from countries or regions where fraud is common and terrorist groups are active. It allows people to become legal U.S. residents overnight without any family or other ties to the U.S. Once applicants have become legal U.S. residents, they can move freely around the country and take any jobs they like. It is an almost perfect program for terrorists, and several known terrorists came to the U.S. as lottery winners. The most notorious one (prior to the recent terror attack in New York) is Hesham Mohamed Hedayet, who shot several people at the LAX airport in 2002. According to testimony of the State Department’s Inspector General during the 109th Congress, “The Diversity Visa program contains significant risks to national security from hostile intelligence officers, criminals, and terrorists attempting to use the program for entry into the United States as permanent residents.”

Failed to achieve its original goal. The goal of this program was to bring in immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States, so the pool of the immigrants wouldn’t be dominated by migrants from a few countries. The program failed to achieve this goal on several fronts.

First, the top immigrant-sending countries have remained the same. The countries that contribute the most immigrants have become more concentrated and less diverse. For example, from 1990, when the law was implemented, to 2012, immigrants from Mexico increased from 21.7% to 28%. In 2012, 46% (or 18.9 million) of immigrants reported having Hispanic or Latino origins.

Second, even though the program selects applicants on a random basis, historically, the winners have largely come from the same few countries. In Africa, Nigeria and Egypt consistently provided the most immigrants from 2003 to 2012. In Asia, Iran and Nepal together produced over 65% of Asian lottery winners in the last five years. Citizens from Uzbekistan and Ukraine have consistently claimed the most lottery winners in Europe.

Third, according to the analysis provided by, the government’s emphasis on the lottery program as one of the most coveted avenues for immigration from Africa is factually wrong. The majority of Africans coming to the U.S. do so on visitor visas, followed by visas of family sponsorship, employment, and students.

While many legal immigrants wait years to be admitted into the U.S. after paying enormous fees and providing every kind of legal documents, the visa lottery program randomly gives 50,000 visas away with little requirement on language and work experience and without a strict vetting process. The lottery program doesn’t strengthen family ties, nor does it promote diversity or our nation’s economic interests. Congress should abolish it and transfer the 50,000 visa quotas to skill-based immigration.

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