Break the chain and lose the lottery — America deserves a better immigration system

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Our immigration system is failing. In order to effectively protect United States citizens and promote their interests, we must pursue an immigration policy that recruits the best and brightest to our country. When considering who to invite into our country as immigrants, our nation should focus on people’s merit: their skills, education and what they can contribute. Not luck or lotteries.

By prioritizing the admission of immigrants based on factors like education and professional skill, we can maximize the beneficial impact of each immigrant on our society. This will lead to both economic gains and a more secure homeland. 

Unfortunately, two parts of our current immigration system work directly against this goal: the diversity visa program, also known as the “visa lottery” program; and the current extended family-based immigration system, which allows immigrants to sponsor not just their own spouse and minor children, but a variety of extended family members, including even siblings and their spouses and children.

The effect of the laws allowing extended family migration is often referred to as “chain migration,” because each extended family member that successfully immigrates can in turn sponsor his or her own network of extended family members. Neither the diversity visa program nor the extended family migration laws take into account our country’s economic needs or national security priorities. They hamper our ability to seek out the best candidates to become part of U.S. society. 

{mosads}Fifty thousand diversity visas are distributed each year through a random lottery. These visas are set aside for individuals from countries that had at one time low immigration levels, with the sole goal of increasing the diversity of the immigrant population. People with a high school degree and zero work experience, as well as people with no education at all and very little work experience, are free to enter the lottery. Nationals of countries that are state sponsors of terrorism are eligible to apply. 


Lottery winners enter the United States as green card holders and are immediately able to start sponsoring other family members, who, in turn, may sponsor their own extended family members. After five years as permanent residents, lottery winners can become U.S. citizens, at which point they may sponsor an even wider array of extended relatives. 

Over time, the combination of the diversity visa program and the laws allowing extended family migration result in the admission of hundreds of thousands of immigrants without any assessment of whether their job skills meet any sort of U.S. economic need and without any consideration of the immigrants’ age, education, English language ability, or close connection to the United States.

In the years since 9/11, multiple diversity visa immigrants have perpetrated or been convicted of terrorism-related acts in the United States. In 2003, the State Department’s inspector general concluded that because of access to the program by nationals of state sponsors of terrorism (e.g., Iran), and the program’s vulnerability to fraud and the ease of application, “the program contains significant threats to national security from entry of hostile intelligence officers, criminals, and terrorists into the United States as permanent residents.”

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office found that consular posts reported “pervasive fraud” in the program and affirmed that “experts familiar with immigration fraud believe that some individuals, including terrorists and criminals, could use fraudulent means to enter or remain in the United States.” Just last month, the Department of Justice announced it was initiating the process to strip U.S. citizenship from a Somali visa lottery winner and the three other Somali nationals she falsely claimed were her husband and children. 

Common sense suggests that we should be choosing who immigrates here based on either their ability to help build the American economy or their very close family connection to a U.S. citizen or green card holder. We need to end extended family chain-migration that favors low-skilled or no-skilled immigrants, and instead establish a point-based system for merit-based immigration. The system would take into account an immigrant’s skills, education, ability to speak English, and other factors that favor successful assimilation and significant contribution to our country and our economy.

Other countries like Canada, England and Australia have adopted similar systems in order to ensure that immigration protects their workers, strengthens national security and fosters assimilation. I urge Congress to revisit its previous bipartisan willingness to terminate the diversity visa program and trim back extended family immigration.

President Trump’s vision for America’s immigration system promotes financial and national security by bringing the best and brightest to our shores. These fixes will dramatically strengthen the integrity of our immigration laws, so that our policies can serve the needs of America, both now and in the future.

L. Francis Cissna is director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Tags Chain migration Diversity Visa Lottery Donald Trump Illegal immigration Immigration

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