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US Green Card Lottery Under Threat

  • Brian Padden

The popular Green Card Lottery program could be eliminated if the U.S. Congress passes the current version of the bipartisan immigration reform plan. The lottery was set up as a way to give anyone a chance at the "American dream." But the new plan will focus instead on adding more highly-educated workers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Two years ago Rafiq-ul-Islam won a U.S. permanent resident visa through the Green Card Lottery and came to the United States from Bangladesh -- with little more than the clothing he owned and a dream of a better life in America.

“I apply for [and] came [to] America. I want to change my luck. If I can change my luck I can support my family, everything, all will be changed, everything like, that’s why I applied,” he said.

The late Senator Edward Kennedy came up with the idea for a visa lottery system in the 1990s -- as a way to give opportunity to European and other countries with low immigration quotas. The lottery program -- officially known as the diversity visa -- is relatively small, granting about 50,000 visas compared to the more than one million new green cards issued each year.

The lucky winners like ul-Islam must pass a background check, but need only a high school degree or work experience to qualify. Immigration attorney Rajiv Khanna says the diversity visa has come to symbolize core American values.

“But United States is blessed and perhaps cursed with that unique vision we have, that we are as a nation, a citizen of the world community. And we have to accommodate certain things in good conscience and good faith rather than as a matter of self-interest,” Khanna said.

But under the proposed immigration reform plan being considered by the U.S. Congress, the diversity visa faces elimination. Instead, the plan would expand opportunities for professionals like Bhushan Parekh who hold advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. Parekh’s H-1B professional visa was sponsored by a major U.S. company.

“Because I had done the engineering in India, the 4-year degree, and I’d also worked in India for a year after. During the interview process it was very apparent to them that I had the management skills they were looking for,” Parekh said.

Some members of Congress oppose eliminating the diversity visa -- saying the U.S. should give some opportunity to the world's poor and disadvantaged. But, in these hard economic times, Khanna says fairness is no longer the priority.

“So diversity by itself is no longer the virtue that we seek in our current immigration system as proposed. What we seek instead is, ‘What can you do for us?,’” Khanna said.

Khanna says while U.S. businesses are lobbying for more professional visas, the poor from developing countries have no such powerful sponsors.

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