The Diversity Green Card Lottery – One Of The Best U.S. Immigration Programs

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About ten years ago I met a family while walking on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. I thought they were oddly dressed, so I listened in as they spoke to each other. I recognized they were speaking Ukrainian, a language I learned in my youth. I decided to strike up a conversation. “Where are you from,” I asked the parents and two teenagers. Shocked to hear someone in Los Angeles speaking Ukrainian, they answered, “Ukraine, but how is it you speak Ukrainian? That’s something we never would have expected here in Los Angeles.” I told them I was born in Canada and learned Ukrainian in my youth. They were surprised, to say the least. Then I asked them, “But how is it you are speaking Ukrainian on the streets of Los Angeles?” They said, “We won the Diversity Green Card Lottery and immigrated here recently.”

I could tell that life as new immigrants was not easy for them. Since it was such a rare incident that we met like this, I asked them to tell me more about themselves.

I learned that the parents only had a high school education and were struggling to learn English. They were working at low paying jobs, possibly at some fast food restaurant. Since it looked as though life was difficult for them, I decided to invite them all for dinner at a Denny’s restaurant the following evening. As you can see, I’m a big spender.

I was not sure they would actually show up, but they did. It was not like they hadn’t eaten for days, but I could tell they really appreciated that I promised to pay for dinner. I told them they could order anything they wanted. They did and we ended up talking for several hours. I told them everything I could about successfully living in the United States. I recommended that they join the public library and take out CDs to help them learn English. I recommended that they try to read newspaper headlines every day to understand what was going on in the country and to watch television to pick up the language. I told them never to buy anything unless it was on sale as a way to save money. I suggested that their children buy second-hand bikes, sports equipment and other things on Craigslist and Kijiji. I told them it would be a good idea to attend at their church to get to know some local community members who could give them other good advice. They appreciated the advice and the evening very much and thanked me. Despite their hardships they were happy to be in the United States. We parted company and never saw each other again.

That was how I was personally exposed to the Diversity Green Card Lottery program. While their lives were far from ideal , nonetheless I thought how wonderful it was that the United States offered an immigration program that enabled families like that one to come to this country. There are thousands of others families like them, from all over the world, now living here because of the program.

The U.S. Diversity Green Card Lottery Takes Place Every Year. Up to 55,000 cards are available to those who win the lottery.

By way of background, immigration attorneys and others working in the field many years ago noticed that certain source countries like Mexico, China, India and the Philippines were flooding the U.S. with immigrants. On the flip side there were many countries that were underrepresented. For example, there were very few immigrants coming from African countries or smaller countries elsewhere. To address this imbalance they lobbied Congress to pass a law making up to 55,000 Diversity Visas available each fiscal year to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. To ensure fairness, the program introduced a yearly lottery so would-be immigrants from these disadvantaged countries could apply and stand an equal chance to come to the U.S. and at the same time diversify the incoming immigrant population.

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This year, the so-called 2018 Diversity Green Card Lottery Program just opened. Applications will be accepted until noon, on Monday, November 7th, 2016. Interested parties can submit entries electronically during this registration period using the entry form (E-DV) here. For DV-2018, natives of the following countries are not eligible to apply, because more than 50,000 natives of these countries immigrated to the United States in the previous five years: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.

There are some basic immigration requirements to qualify as a would-be 2018 Diversity Green Card Lottery immigrant. As already mentioned, only individuals born in countries whose natives qualify can enter. Also, each Diversity Visa applicant must meet the education/work experience requirement of the DV program by having either: a high school education or its equivalent, defined as successful completion of a 12 -year course of formal elementary and secondary education; OR two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform.

Example of a green card that entitles the holder to permanent residence in the United States

There are two reasons why this is one of the best immigration programs in the United States. Firstly, it diversifies the in-bound immigrant population as Congress intended. While the beneficiaries of the program may have changed over time, the diversity element remains. Secondly, this is one of the few programs in which an average person, someone without family ties or personal connections or wealth, like the family I met from from Ukraine, can qualify to immigrate legally to this country. This resonates deeply with American values.

In recent years pressure has built on the American immigration system to open up more ways for applicants from heavily populated and over represented countries to come to the United States. Some immigration advocates have called for the elimination of this Diversity Visa program to free up more places for immigrants from these heavily populated areas. For example, in the EB-5 investor immigration category, where investors from China are currently backlogged for many years, some advocates have suggested the Diversity Visa program should be sacrificed to provide more opportunities for such investors. For the reasons I have set out above, I believe that would be a mistake. I support finding other answers to the backlog, but not at the expense of this beautiful program that is especially helpful to the little guy dreaming that one day, just maybe, he will win the lottery and immigrate to America.

Andy J. Semotiuk is a U.S. and Canadian immigration lawyer with offices in New York and Toronto. He is a published author and a former UN correspondent. Learn more at My Work Visa.

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