Diversity Immigration Program

2012-06-13 12:36:35

Source and Purpose

Immigration is the act of moving to or settling in another country or region, temporarily or permanently. The Diversity Immigration Program, also popularly known as the ‘‘DV lottery program,’’ is a congressionally mandated immigrant visa program administered on an annual basis by the Department of State under the authority of section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). More specifically, as amended, section 203 of the act creates a new class of immigrants known as ‘‘diversity immigrants.’’ Since 1990, the act makes available 55,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of migration to the United States. To qualify, DV visa applicants must comply with simple, but strict, eligibility standards, which require first being chosen by a computer-generated random lottery. The act provides that visas are made available to six geographic regions; however, a greater number of visas go to regions and countries with lower rates of immigration to the United States and no visas go to citizens of countries who have sent more than fifty thousand immigrants to the United States in the past five years. It also limits the number of visas a country may receive to no more than 7 percent in any given year.

History and Events That Led to the DV Program

In its effort to diversify, the legislative history of the Diversity Visa Program is remarkably distinct from previous immigration laws such as the Quota and National Origin Acts of 1921, 1924, and by extension 1952; these overtly discriminated on the basis of national origin in the issuance of immigrant visas to aliens seeking entry to the United States. In 1965, Congress imposed a general prohibition against these forms of discrimination by establishing a seven-category preference system. The passage of the Immigration Act of 1990 was a major overhaul of the 1965 Immigration Nationality Act and therefore consistent with its goals. While It creates new categories of immigrants, it furthers the widely held view of America as a country of immigrants. To be sure, the 1990 act can be traced from a 1981 report issued by a congressional Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. In that report, the commission recommended three goals upon which Congress could fashion U.S. immigration policy: (1) family reunification; (2) economic growth balanced with the view of protecting the U.S. labor market; and (3) cultural diversity consistent with national unity. These goals served as the basis of the 1990 act; the third served as the foundation for the Diversity Visa Program.

Goals and Actions

Critics decry the 1990 act as simply another bad legislative scheme designed to lure cheap foreign labor. However, advocates and especially President George H. W. Bush sold the 1990 statute as a blend of tradition of family reunification and increased immigration of skilled individuals to meet U.S. economic needs of the 1990s. The act also made several policy changes that are worth noting in contrast to the 1965 statute. For example, the annual allocation of numerically restricted visas was set at two hundred seventy thousand under the 1965 act, but the 1990 law established a flexible worldwide cap based on family, employment, and ‘‘diversity’’ by increasing the total eligible immigration under the new flexible cap. It also provided for unrestricted immigration of certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and residents while placing emphasis on employment considerations.

The old preferences for occupation, especially the so-called third and fifth of the 1965 act, placed similar emphasis on employment and immediate families. The new law provides more latitude and flexibility. While it provides for diversity immigrants, it explicitly excludes natives of countries that are oversubscribed. It also requires that prospective immigrants establish that they have at least a high school education or its equivalent with at least two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience.

Summarily, the 1990 act increased the total immigration under the overall flexible cap of 675 thousand immigrants beginning in fiscal year 1995, which was preceded by the 700 thousand levels during the years 1992 through 1994. In all, the 675 thousand level consists of 480 thousand family-sponsored individuals, 140 thousand employment-related immigrants, and fifty-five thousand ‘‘diversity’’ immigrants to whom visas are randomly assigned to facilitate the selection of persons from previously underrepresented countries. While the diversity immigration lottery program so far accounts for little more than one-third of the ten-year cumulative increase in permanent immigration, it appears to have had the effect of boosting the employment-related immigration category that was a major objective of the new law. However, critics remain unimpressed and argue that immigration from other parts of the world, such as Africa, is still disproportionately underrepresented under current immigration law.

Impact on Rights and Civil Liberties

An important aspect of the Immigration Act of 1990 is that it repealed the prohibition on politics and policy as grounds for denial of visas to the United States. Specifically, the act revised all grounds for exclusion and deportation by significantly rewriting the political and ideological grounds for exclusion. It ended the ban on communist nonimmigrant visa applicants in effect since 1952 and authorized the attorney general of the United States to revise and establish new nonimmigrant admission categories. The act also authorized the attorney general to grant temporary protected status to undocumented nationals of designated countries subject to armed conflict and natural disasters.

It also created a new subcategory for religious persons seeking immigrant visas under a ‘‘special immigrant admission’’ category. Prior to the 1990 act, religious workers were simply not categorized at all; the new designation limited the number of persons to whom visas are granted under this category. Critics charge that limiting the number of religious workers amounts to the denial of free exercise of religion, but this view has yet to face judicial scrutiny. The act also established a short-term amnesty program to grant legal residence to up to 165 thousand spouses and minor children of immigrants who were granted amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).


From numerical restriction to worldwide flexible cap, the overall impact of the U.S. immigration policy of diversity immigration under the 1990 immigration act has been a marked improvement over previous legislation. Focusing on legal immigration by enabling familybased immigration, the act appears to have had the effect of boosting employment-related immigration— one of its major objectives, as well as increased diversity- based immigration. Certainly, opening new immigration possibilities for immigrants fromparts of the world previously underrepresented, oppressed, or fleeing from oppression to be part of the American experience of freedom is central to a new immigration policy. The debate over illegal immigration and perhaps the legalization of those already in the country continues as evidenced by recent congressional debates.


References and Further Reading

  • Bush, George H. W. Statement on Signing the Immigration Act of 1990, November 29, 1990. (S. 358, approved November 29, Public Law No. 101-649).
  • https://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/research/papers/1990/90112910. html.
  • Immigration and Nationality Act Amendment of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89-236, 79 Stat. 911 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 8 U.S.C.).
  • Immigration Act of November 29, 1990 (104 Statutes at Large 4978).
  • Pub. L. No. 101-649, }} 131-162, 104 Stat. 4997-5012 (codified at 8 U.S.C.A. } 1153(c) (2000)).
  • Select Commission to Study and Evaluate . . . Existing Laws, Policies, and Procedures Governing the Admission of Immigrants and Refugees to the United States. Pub. L. No. 95-412, 92 Stat. 907 (1978).
  • Select Committee on Immigration and Refugee Policy, 97th Cong., 1st Session, U.S. Immigration Policy and the National Interest XI (Joint Committee, 1981).
  • Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugee and International Law, House Committee on the Judiciary, 101st Cong, 2nd Session, Family Unity and Employment Opportunity Immigration Act of 1990 (Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute to the Comm. Print, May 7, 1990).