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Analysis & Opinion

What would replace the U.S. Green Card Lottery?

What would replace the U.S. Green Card Lottery?
16:23 26/07/2011
RIA Novosti commentator Olga Barykova

The rumor that the U.S. Department of State's Green Card Lottery may soon stop has shocked tens of thousands across the world. One positive outcome, according to experts, is that it may suspend the brain drain from Russia.

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Congress received a bill to drop the Green Card Lottery program, which has been the only chance of obtaining U.S. citizenship for many. Its authors instead propose giving the 55,000 visas a year to foreign nationals who have obtained an advanced degree from a U.S. university.

The bill's authors argue that problems of fraud and the potential for the program to be exploited by terrorists make the lottery a threat to national security, and also damage the economic interests of U.S. citizens because immigrants compete for jobs.

Officially known as the Diversity Visa program, the lottery through which 50,000 to 55,000 immigrants are selected randomly worldwide each year gives everyone an equal chance to permanently live and work in the United States. The winners are granted a green card and the hope to attain U.S. citizenship.

First held in 1995, the lottery involves millions of people from eligible countries, whose applications are processed by a special computer program. The list of eligible territories is regularly changed to exclude countries from which over 50,000 immigrants have entered the United States over a period of five years. Russia was not eligible from 2005 through 2009.

Since 1995, a total of 785,000 people, including 45,000 Russians, have been granted diversity visas.

"This is a curse for Russia because it is the best who are leaving," Mikhail Taratuta, a journalist who worked in the United States for over 10 years, said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

A jackpot for terrorists

Since 2005, congressmen, mostly Republicans, have made several attempts to abolish the lottery, insisting that it can be used by terrorists to get into the country.

"If you're a terrorist organization and you can get a few hundred people to apply to this from several countries ... the odds are you will get one or two of them picked," Republican Senator Bob Goodlatte, who introduced the bill, said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Analysts have rejected the argument as weak because the procedure for receiving the green card consists of several stages and the notification of winning the lottery does not amount to receiving an immigration visa. The qualifying requirements are tough.

First, an applicant for an immigration visa must have at least secondary education, or two years of working in a job that takes at least two years of training, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Second, the applicants must prove that they and their families can ensure their financial independence in the United States.

Under U.S. immigration law, the authorities may refuse to issue a green card if the applicant has a criminal record, a serious infectious disease or a mental disorder, or there are reasons to assume that they are seeking entrance to engage in espionage, sabotage, terrorism or any other unlawful activity.

All lottery winners are then invited for an obligatory interview at the U.S. embassy and their biographies are scrutinized, John Wilcock, the Diversity Visa program officer in the Visa Office of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, said in an interview to RIA Novosti.

A country of immigrants

Another argument used by the lottery opponents is economic problems. Given high unemployment in the United States, "it's hard to justify bringing an additional 50,000 in that need a job and will be competing with the 14 million Americans for jobs," Goodlatte said.

This view is shared by Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"Eliminating the so-called Diversity Visa lottery would be an important first step in restoring integrity, common sense, and a semblance of national purpose to America's immigration policy," he said.

The attraction of immigrants has always been a priority government policy in the United States, Yury Rogulev, the director of Lomonosov Moscow State University's Franklin Roosevelt Foundation, told RIA Novosti.

"The United States began as a country of immigrants. Immigration helped the U.S. economy develop without suffering from a shortage of workforce," he said.

"The U.S. demographic philosophy is that immigrants are the country's wealth and asset," Taratuta said. "It is the most active who come to the United States, those who are ready to cut old ties and do something new. It is the people who are ready to act who emigrate."

At the same time, the journalist noted that due to the liberalization of U.S. legislation, the country has been swamped with the family members of new immigrants who have no means of subsistence and are therefore a heavy burden on the U.S. social security system.

Taratuta said the unemployment level in the United States is so high now that the inflow of immigrants "is a major strain."

According to different data, 800,000 to 1.5 million legal immigrants enter the United States every year. As for illegal immigrants, analysts say there are over 10 million of them in the United States.

Brain drain

The abolition of the Green Card Lottery would be a very unpleasant surprise for tens of thousands of potential immigrants. However, they can also get a green card by marrying a U.S. national, getting an invitation from resident relatives, or investing $500,000 in the U.S. economy. But for many, the Green Card Lottery is the only legal way of getting a residence permit.

The lottery was created to regulate the multimillion-strong immigration flow. It has no equivalent anywhere in the world because immigration to the United States is tens or even hundreds of times larger than to any other country, Rogulev said.

"The scales (of immigration) are incomparable, which is why the United States is using different instruments in its immigration policy," he said.

Nearly 2,500 Russians won the Green Card Lottery in 2010, when 15 million people tried their luck. According to the latest opinion polls, over 20 percent of Russians would like to live abroad, compared to 5 percent in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. The Public Opinion foundation polls show that most of them are young people with a higher education.

Emigration to the United States is a boon for Russians who have no social lift at home. But for the country, this amounts to a major loss, Taratuta said. In his words, it is the best who are emigrating, and the abolition of the Green Card Lottery will only slow, not stop the process.

The bill's authors propose replacing the Green Card Lottery with a new Employment-Based Green Card category. These 55,000 new visas would be available to foreign-born graduate students who obtained a science or medical degree from a U.S. university and whose services are sought by an employer in the United States.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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RIA NovostiWhat would replace the U.S. Green Card Lottery?What would replace the U.S. Green Card Lottery?

16:23 26/07/2011 The rumor that the U.S. Department of State's Green Card Lottery may soon stop has shocked tens of thousands across the world. One positive outcome, according to experts, is that it may suspend the brain drain from Russia.>>

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