On October 31, an individual drove a pickup truck on a bike path in New York City, killing eight in an act of terrorism. The driver of the truck, Sayfullo Saipov, was a U.S. legal permanent resident originally from Uzbekistan. Mr. Saipov came to the U.S. after winning a visa through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery program.
A terrorist attack pretty much guarantees a chorus of political opportunists putting forth their ideas to cut immigration. This incident was no exception. Immigration hardliners in Congress wasted no time in calling for an end to the diversity visa lottery. And, no surprise, the President called for the elimination of the diversity visa.
Diversity Visa Origins and Purpose
The American immigration system favors immigrants with close family ties to the U.S., and most immigrants enter through the sponsorship of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident immigrant. Over time, our immigration stream became dominated by a relatively few countries. In 2015, for example, out of the 1,051,000 persons obtaining lawful permanent residence (“green cards”), 46 percent came from seven countries (Mexico, China, India, the Philippines, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam).
Except through employer sponsorship, there were few opportunities for nationals of most countries to come to the U.S. For example, although millions of Americans claim some Irish ancestry, the family linkages to Ireland are too remote to qualify for U.S. immigration. If you are Irish and have a grandparent who is a citizen of the U.S., you are out of luck—U.S. citizens may only sponsor spouses, parents, children (including adult children), and brothers and sisters. Because American ties to Ireland are generally more remote than the immediate family, very few Irish had an opportunity to immigrate. The same was true of other nationalities that gave us our immigrant heritage—including the countries from which individuals were brought involuntarily as slaves.