The Immigration Act of 1990 formally established the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, which helps diversify the U.S. immigrant population by providing up to 50,000 visas annually to natives of countries that have sent less than 50,000 total immigrants to the United States over the preceding five years. The visa recipients are chosen in a lottery, and if they meet all eligibility requirements and pass background checks, they are awarded legal permanent residence in the United States, along with their spouse and unmarried children under the of age 21.
The immigration reform bill currently being debated in the U.S. Senate, however, would eliminate the diversity-visa program and grant those who are eligible a small number of points in the new merit-based green-card allocations—explained in the infographic below. Without this visa category, immigration from certain low-sending regions would diminish further and would undermine the goal of welcoming immigrants from diverse backgrounds. The infographic below portrays the current distribution of diversity visas and highlights the disproportionate effect that the elimination of this category would have on migration from Africa.
In an effort to partially address these concerns, an amendment introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and agreed to by the Senate Judiciary Committee would allow up to 10,500 employment-based visas to be awarded annually to persons from sub-Saharan African and Caribbean countries.
Ann Garcia is a Policy Analyst for the Immigration Policy Team at the Center for American Progress.