End of the Visa Lottery?
By Piotr Kościński, Tomasz Deptuła
Translated By Aleksandra J. Chlon
27 November 2012
Edited by Eric Schallock
Poland - Rzeczpospolita - Original Article (Polish)
Republicans in the House of Representatives want to embark on immigration reform.
The first stage of the reform would be creating a new category of permanent resident visas designed for advanced graduates in science and engineering. At the same time, however, the visa lottery program, popular among the Polish, may be cancelled.
This week, the lower house of Congress is meant to vote on a bill on so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) visas. The bill, sponsored by Republican congressman Lamar Smith from Texas, concerns foreigners: namely, graduates from American universities who received advanced degrees in science and engineering. The bill would allow up to 55,000 permanent resident visas, or green cards, per year to be issued for such students. That is the number of visas issued every year within the framework of the visa lottery, which would be abolished.
“The visa lottery has rather few supporters in the United States,” says Madelein Sumption from Migratino Policy institute in Washington in an interview with Rzeczpospolita. “Visas for educated people wanting to come here to work are mostly sought after by businessmen. Visas for the families of individuals already living in the U.S. are lobbied for by migrant communities. The lottery, however, does not have much support.”
A similar bill appeared in Congress in September. 257 congressmen voted for it, 158 against it. However, due to procedural reasons the bill was not passed, because two-thirds of the votes were needed. This time, the legislation requires only a simple majority and the STEM Jobs Act will most likely be passed by the lower house of Congress with an opposition from a large group of Democrats protesting against the abolishment of the lottery program.
Expressing their reservations against the project are members of caucuses representing the African-American, Latin-American and Asian minorities. They think that the Republicans want to promote immigration among those groups so that they will support the Right and close the doors for potential supporters of the Democrats. “It’s really just an effort to try to divide people once again,” says Democrat Congresswoman from California, Zoe Lofgren.
After the presidential elections, the Republicans are feeling pressure to tackle immigration problems. They are the ones who were blamed for the lack of reform of the dysfunctional system during the first presidency of Barack Obama. The Tea Party’s anti-immigration rhetoric alienated the Latin-American voters from the Republicans, which became one of the reasons for Mitt Romney’s electoral fiasco.
The increase of the amount of visas granted to graduates in science and engineering in itself is not questioned in Washington. However, the abolishment of the two-decade old Ethnic Diversity program - which is the official name for visa lotteries – causes an emotional stir. Tens of thousands of Poles have benefited from “lottery” visas, but the lotteries are above all a chance for people from Africa and Asia to fulfill their dream of America. “It is one of the few options that individuals have to legally enter the United States,” said Joe Sciarrillo of the San Francisco based African Advocacy Network. “The diversity visa is more open and egalitarian in terms of who qualifies for it. A single mother with a high school degree in Eritrea has as good of a shot as an elite businessman.”
What Do the Democrats Say to This
To sweeten the bill up a bit, the Republicans have added a clause which allows the families of green card holders to wait in the U.S. for the legalization of their stay, without having to leave the country. It is estimated that around 322,000 people are in the queue for this type of visa. This amendment should guarantee the support of at least a portion of Latin-Americans, who have relatively little interest in lotteries, because countries with the highest rate of immigration to the United States, including Mexico, Salvador, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia, are excluded from the diversity program.
The project may be met with severe opposition from the Senate, which is dominated by Democrats. The most likely scenario is that the upper house will not debate the bill during the term that is just now ending. Consequently, the work on the legislature will need to be started anew. The Republicans are not hiding the fact that they will be trying to force the bill in a new Congress as well, while the Democrats say they prefer a more complex reform, as opposed to creating one new visa category.
If, however, the STEM Jobs Act were to pass through both houses of Congress, the visa lottery DV-2014, the applications for which were accepted throughout all of October this year, would most likely be the last one. The visas from this edition will be issued starting on Oct. 1, 2012. So far, we do not know how many Poles took part in this program.
The Department of State, meanwhile, is currently issuing visas within the framework of the previous program, DV-2013. Almost two thousand Poles received the chance to go live in the United States – that is around one in every forty Polish participants in the lottery, because in October of last year there were nearly 86,000 applications made by Poles. The largest amount of visas (3,255) was given to Poles in the DV-2004 lottery and the least (2,090) was given in the DV-2006 program. We used up the visa limit between the years 1995 and 1997. In those years, each country could receive a maximum of 3,850 green cards, not counting family members.
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