The annual green card lottery, which has been going on since 1995, could be cut with new immigration legislation, according to reports. The lottery system awards permanent residency to 50,000 people from countries that have citizens who do not emigrate to the U.S. in large numbers. This lottery has recently been under attack from the House of Representatives, which plans to eliminate the lottery in the coming months as the new immigration bill is underway.
According to The Washington Post, the program aims to give a more diverse group of immigrants a chance to gain U.S. citizenship. The source reports that the lottery is popular among immigrants because it allows citizenship with almost no strings attached. Last year alone, 8 million individuals applied. Countries that send more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States each year are not eligible to participate in the lottery.
"In my country, whole cities wait to hear the results of this lottery," Ermais Amirat, an Ethiopian lottery winner living in Alexandria, Va., told the source. "I can't believe they would take it away. We may not earn a lot, but on $200 a month, your whole family can survive back home."
As a compromise from the Senate in the ongoing immigration debate, the lottery would be "quietly" eliminated by 2014. Lawmakers have said that the lottery has become a place for scam artists to earn citizenship, and it has lost the original goals it was used for in the past. Others argue that it promotes legal immigration and it is one of the only ways for African immigrants to gain citizenship. If the "Gang of Eight" legislation passes in the House of Representatives, the last lottery would have been in October 2012. Those participating in the lottery are required to apply for citizenship online almost two years before being potentially selected.
Supporters of the lottery say that the program is small and it wouldn't do any harm to keep it around.
"Diversity visas are one of the few ways people from Africa and the Caribbean can come to this country," Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) said in an interview, as told to The Washington Post. "… But why do we need to cut a program where millions of people are competing for only 55,000 visas? I'm sorry, but I just can't accept that."
The numbers show that almost half of the lottery spots are reserved for individuals from countries in Africa, where applicants only need a high school diploma or two years of work experience for eligibility.
"It has proven to be a way of helping those who come from the continent of Africa, those who come from a number of other areas where it is very difficult to get a visa," Sheila Jackson Lee, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Economic Times.
Others say that the lottery relies on the "luck of the draw," and that every person should have an equal chance to get citizenship. The odds of winning are slim, but a lucky ticket could mean citizenship for an entire family.
"Participating in the lottery was, for me, a way to take the fast lane to immigration," Nathaniel Assayag, a French engineering student, told the Daily Nation.
Although a clean criminal record is necessary to get a lottery ticket, some argue that because there are such low requirements, it could help terrorists enter the United States. However, most winners are just happy to have gotten lucky and look forward to improving their lives.
"I'm still in shock," Mamina Ezra told Agence France-Presse after winning the lottery on her 11th try. "I was so used to losing that this has really shocked me."