For years now, there has been speculation concerning the future of the green card lottery, the small program that awards visas (mostly) at random to 55,000 applicants each year. In May 2013, when the debate over immigration policy was particularly heated, The Washington Post speculated that the program might see its demise. That prediction was wrong, as the green card lottery took place again in 2014. But now, with Obama’s immigration action about to take effect, concerns about the program are on the rise again.
As Businessweek surmised in December, just weeks after Obama announced his executive decision, the green card lottery may become a casualty to changes in immigration policy. This theory is not just a guess unfounded by proof. As The Wall Street Journal reported in early November, the Senate’s immigration bill proposes to end the visa lottery program. While that Senate bill is in “legislative limbo” at the moment, an analyst told the source that, no matter which bill is passed in the end, the green card lottery is likely to die off.
What do critics say?
The argument against the green card lottery lies in the notion that it relies too heavily on luck. Some say that the randomness of the program means that some people are awarded visas who do not deserve them, and that these green cards should go instead to skilled workers in high demand in the U.S.
“A lottery is not a way to run an immigration system,” Cornell University immigration professor Dr. Stephen Yale-Loehr told The Wall Street Journal. “It doesn’t strengthen family ties, promote our economic interests, or rescue refugees. Congress should abolish the program.”
In defense of the green card lottery
On the other side of this dispute, those for the program note that, among the millions of people waiting to obtain a green card, it’s almost impossible to predict which people will provide the most value to the country.
“Sometimes you don’t know which immigrants will add economic value,” the Businessweek article stated. “Case in point: The lottery was largely responsible for America’s recent – and successful – African immigration boom.”
To highlight this fact, Businessweek showcased the story of Kader Karamon, who won the lottery in 2000 when he was 23. At the time, he was living in Togo in West Africa and felt that he was wasting his life – he had few opportunities, had only a high school diploma and was surrounded by corruption. With no money, skills or family in the U.S., the lottery was his only chance to start a new life.
After arriving, Karamon worked menial jobs to get by until being accepted by the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He left for Paris to earn his master’s, but returned to the U.S. to give back to the nation that welcomed him as a citizen.
While Karamon’s story may be a rare story, it’s proof that the lottery does a great duty with the potential to benefit both the immigrant and the company: giving people who otherwise would not qualify the chance to become valuable American citizens.