For aspiring immigrants, winning the lottery just got a lot more complicated

For aspiring immigrants, winning the lottery just got a lot more complicated
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This week millions of people who applied for the United States Diversity Visa lottery can now check the results online to see if they’ve won. Only a tiny percentage of applicants will win the lottery, and of these winners, a smaller number still will apply for a visa, submit documentation, and undergo screening at the U.S. consulate. In the end only around 50,000 people will receive a visa and choose to come to the United States.

The United States hosts the lottery each year, inviting and welcoming the applications of people around the world who hail from countries that do not send many immigrants to the United States.  

This is the 25th year that the United States has selected potential immigrants through the visa lottery, but it is the first time that people — hoping to become Diversity Visa immigrants — have been called “the worst people” by the president of the United States.


As aspiring immigrants were registering for the visa lottery last autumn, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE began attacking the program and the people who come to the United States through it. In subsequent months, he has doubled down, singling out this small part of a large complex immigration system.

The program was created as part of the Immigration Act of 1990. The visa lottery was just one part of broader legislation that expanded legal immigration at that time. While the original impetus for the program was to make immigrant visas available to white Europeans who felt disadvantaged by recent changes to the immigration system, it also created new immigration opportunities for people from all over the world.

Aspiring immigrants from most African countries that were historically blocked and excluded have benefited in particular from the lottery program. Around 360,000 African immigrants lived in the United States in 1990; they number more than 2 million now.

More than 400,000 came through the lottery — the most of any region. This shift represents an important turning point. More African people have migrated voluntarily in the last 25 years than were brought involuntarily through the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The program has benefited African immigrants and this seems to be at the root of why President Trump dislikes it. If the president wishes to limit the number of people coming from African countries, terminating the visa lottery would do just that.  

The president suggested that other countries use the lottery to send their “worst people.” Of course, individuals apply for the visa lottery, and the United States selects them — other governments play no role in the process.

Trump’s comments about the diversity visa lottery make little sense — he constantly mischaracterizes how the program works and its purpose — except when understood as part of his larger worldview on immigrants and immigration.

The administration has been laser-focused in its efforts to curtail immigration from the countries it perceives to be undesirable and to intimidate and terrorize immigrant communities in the U.S.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services removed language calling America a “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement to codify a newly harsh attitude towards legal immigrants, like those who immigrate through the Diversity Immigrant Program.

These policies are of a piece with an administration that empowers neo-Nazis and racists, turns a blind eye to violent white extremists, and promotes Islamophobes to the highest offices in government.

For the past 25 years the visa lottery has helped diversify U.S immigration and bolstered the image of the U.S. abroad. Trump appears to have a narrow, dangerous vision of what it means to belong in this country.

For millions of aspiring immigrants, the existence of the lottery has long signaled that the United States places value on creating a racially and culturally diverse society. Maybe it was possible to believe this as they submitted their names for the lottery last fall. But as they check the results on the website beginning this week will they still dream of bringing their talents and hopes to the United States?

Carly Goodman Ph.D. is a historian of immigration and American foreign relations. She is a Mellon/ACLS public fellow and communications analyst at the American Friends Service Committee.