The Diversity Visa Program: An Overview
The United States (U.S.) provides a variety of different visas for those wishing to immigrant either short- or long-term. Unfortunately, many foreign nationals have limited opportunities. This is because they do not have the familial or professional connections required for many visa types. Luckily, one program exists to address this common issue – the Diversity Visa Program.
Each year, the U.S. provides a standard amount of diversity visas that can be acquired through the program. People across the globe apply, hoping to be one of many chosen. For those who receive diversity visas, life changes in profound ways – they have the opportunity to move to America permanently. Once here, they can grow their families, attain an education, and build their careers. They can grow strong roots in their local community. In short, diversity visas provide vast opportunity to deserving immigrants around the world.
In today’s article, we will provide a basic review of the Diversity Visa Program. We will answer the following questions:
- What is the Diversity Visa Program?
- When was the program created?
- How many diversity visas are available each year?
- Who benefits from the Diversity Visa Program?
What is the Diversity Visa Program?
The Diversity Visa Program was created via the Immigration Act of 1990. Originally, the program’s goal was to encourage immigration from countries with small immigrant populations in America. Every year, the U.S. updates the list of countries eligible for the program. Only foreign nationals from eligible countries can apply for diversity visas.
The program offers 50,000 diversity visas annually to foreign nationals worldwide. In order to apply, a person must be from an eligible nation and possess no personal bars to visa eligibility. Bars to eligibility can include criminal histories and/or previous history of illegal immigration into the U.S. (If you are unsure if you have a bar to eligibility, contact an expert immigration attorney for assistance.)
Every year, the program selects visa recipients through a computerized lottery. This is why you often may hear the program also referred to as the “Diversity Visa Lottery.” Lottery winners do not automatically receive diversity visas – they must complete a rigorous application process. The same process applies to any additional applicants, like spouses or unmarried children under 21.
In order to provide fair opportunity to every person in every nation, eligible countries are separated into six regions based geographically. To further promote fairness, no country can receive more than 7% of allotted visas. This accounts for varying sizes of nations.
How Popular is the Diversity Visa Program?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Diversity Visa Program is exceedingly popular. For example, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 alone roughly 14.5 million people across the globe applied for consideration in the diversity visa lottery. Further, another 8.4 million “derivatives” – direct family members of applicants like spouses or children – applied as well. These data support one narrative: that many diverse people throughout the world hope for a chance to acquire a diversity visa.
While critics of the program may believe that lottery winners immediately receive diversity visas, this is simply untrue. Once selected randomly, all candidates and their derivatives then undergo intense scrutiny through the standard U.S. visa application procedures. As expected, this is a highly stringent process, and U.S. officials exclude many potential candidates. For example, while over 5,000 citizens of Uzbekistan were selected via the diversity visa lottery, only roughly 3,000 ultimately received visas.
Who Benefits from the Diversity Visa Program?
Only residents of eligible countries can apply for a diversity visa. The U.S. government updates eligible countries annually, and only includes nations with a record of limited immigration to America within a certain timeframe. Limited immigration, in this instance, is defined as 50,000 or less immigrants within a five-year timespan. Thus, countries with high immigrant populations like China and India are not included in the Diversity Visa program.
The program also benefits people who have few connections within America. Often, foreign nationals utilize familial or professional connections to obtain visas (e.g., family immigration, H-1B visas). Because the system highly favors such applicants, those without connections often cannot immigrate despite strong efforts. Diversity visas solve this problem – while they are difficult to obtain, applicants do not need to possess any type of connection to the U.S. in order to be eligible.
Why is the Diversity Visa Program Important?
Diversity visas are profoundly important because they create opportunity. They also encourage highly diverse immigrant communities throughout America. Diversity encourages progress, innovation, and cultural revolution. Every diversity visa beneficiary brings valuable knowledge, skills, and traditions to the U.S. Without the program, these immigrants would likely be unable to access new lives on American soil.
Is the Program Working?
From the available data, it appears that the program is working. According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), diversity visas made up 4.7% of total visas awarded in 2017. And 97% of lawful permanent residents (green card holders) receiving adjustment of status from diversity visas were new arrivals to the U.S. This demonstrates that the program is performing as intended.
Contact an Expert Houston Immigration Lawyer
If you have a question about diversity visas, your best resource is an experienced immigration attorney. Immigration lawyers specialize in visa law and can provide accurate guidance and advice regarding your situation. Because any error, great or small, can disrupt or even halt a visa application, it is wise to work with an attorney from the start. That way, they can guide your application and monitor progress, handling any issues that arise.
Davis & Associates serves immigrants throughout Texas and Florida. In Houston, our diligent legal team is ready to help with any immigration issue, including consular visa applications. Our qualified and experienced attorneys will provide you with expert legal counsel, protecting your rights and ensuring every aspect of your application is correct. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation. With Davis & Associates, you receive top-tier immigration legal services every single day.