Who Wins the Visa Lottery?

By Jessica M. Vaughan on December 4, 2012

Defenders of the visa lottery, which is slated for elimination in a bill that just passed the U.S. House on Friday, have tried to portray this program as an essential category that invigorates our immigration flow. Others, including Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), have said ending the program would be "racist, if not in its intent, than certainly in its effect." Some media descriptions of the visa lottery have also given this false impression, that the visa lottery program benefits mainly black immigrants from Africa, who they say have no other legal channels to enter. Neither portrayal of the visa lottery is accurate.

According to DHS statistics, few of the lottery immigrants bring useful skills or experience. More than 40 percent list their occupation as "No occupation/not working outside home". Only 23 percent claim to be in a management or professional occupation; the rest say they work at low-skill jobs. This is not surprising, considering that the only admission criterion besides luck is a high school degree or two years of work experience, and those claims are tough to verify.

It's true that many of the visa lottery winners are citizens of African nations, but there are also large numbers from Middle Eastern, Asian, and European countries. Joining Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya in the top 10 countries are Uzbekistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Nepal, Iran, and Ukraine. Non-Arab African continent citizens represent only about one-third of the total visa lottery population.

And they do have other ways to enter, not only through student and employment categories, but now also family categories. Last year more immigrants from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya entered through the category for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens than through the lottery. In fact, last year more than twice as many African immigrants got green cards through the family categories as through the visa lottery, and most of those did so as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.

Let's face it, there's no good reason to keep the visa lottery. And the problems it invites (fraud, crime, terrorism) are more than enough reason to end it.