State Department's Presentation of Diversity Visa Data Is Misleading

By David North, November 11, 2014

There is a bit of statistical sleight-of-hand present in one of the more bizarre features of our immigration policy — the diversity visa lottery in which about 50,000 visas are distributed annually to some of the millions of aliens who apply for these tickets of admission.

One must be a resident of a nation that does not send us lots of migrants, and one must be a high school graduate. The winner and his or her family members get green cards.

The whole process is done on the Internet, so the would-be holder of a diversity visa (DV) must either be computer-literate or be able to hire someone who is. If the alien lives in one of the 19 nations from which we have received more than 50,000 immigrants in the last five years, the alien cannot apply. The list changes from time to time, but always includes Mexico and Canada.

The sleight-of-hand occurs in the State Department's presentation of its monthly tabulations of the distribution of available visa numbers, by region of origin. This is quotation from the November 2014 Visa Bulletin:

[I]mmigrant numbers in the DV category are available to qualified DV-2015 applicants chargeable to all regions and eligible countries as follows: ... Africa: 14,200 except Egypt: 6,800 and Ethiopia 7,800; Asia: 2,950; Europe: 9,900; North America (Bahamas): 3; Oceania: 500; South America and Caribbean: 650.

Another way of handling the same set of numbers would be:

  • Africa: 28,800
  • Asia: 2,950
  • Europe: 9,900
  • North America (Bahamas): 3
  • Oceania: 500
  • South America and Caribbean: 650

Were the data to be handled in the more customary way, as immediately above, it would show clearly that the program has a large majority of African users. In fact, in that month, 67.3 percent. State apparently does not want that to be too apparent.

The numbers of visa availabilities, which vary from time to time, are published monthly, and relate to various stages of the DV process, but the heavy utilization in Africa, and the apparent masking of that concentration, appears month after month.

The Visa Bulletin's text includes this statement: "No one country can receive more than seven percent of the available diversity visas in any one year." This presumable relates to the unusual way that Egypt and Ethiopia are treated in the publication.

Incidentally, the State Department's definition of North America links the Bahamas to the United States, Mexico, and Canada, with only the island nation being covered by the visa lottery, hence the reference above.