The Green Card Lottery Fiasco

The "lucky" person's path to a green card came to a head earlier this month when the results of this year's immigration green card lottery were invalidated. After thousands of lucky green card lottery applicants logged onto the U.S. State Department's website to see that they won, a few weeks later those same "lucky" people were told that the results of the lottery were invalid and that they were no longer green card lottery winners. According to the U.S. State Department, the lottery results were not valid because more than 90% of the winners were drawn from entrants submitted within the first two days of the 30-day registration period. This meant that the drawing was not "random", as required.

Each year approximately 55,000 people obtain a green card through the Diversity Lottery (or Green Card Lottery). Diversity Lottery applicants must come from a country with lower overall immigration to the U.S. (eligible countries are listed), and meet minimal education requirements. Applicants simply apply online through the U.S. State Department's website during a 30 day window in the Fall. There is not even an application fee. Then, the "winners" are randomly drawn by computer, and notified that they may apply for a green card within the following fiscal year.

As an immigration lawyer with full understanding of the long and arduous path to obtaining a green card through employment, asylum, and even through family, it has always seemed peculiar to me that another avenue to a green card is to play the annual green card lottery. Whereas the majority of employment-based green card applicants have at least a Bachelor's degree and usually require employer sponsorship, diversity lottery applicants only have to show that they completed high school or have at least two years of work experience. When the stated goals of U.S. immigration policy regarding legal immigration include attracting the best and brightest to the U.S., filling labor shortage needs, reuniting families, and providing a refuge for those seeking freedom from persecution, then holding a random drawing for green cards seems an anomaly.

But the green card lottery has been the law since 1990, and was implemented to increase immigration from under-represented countries. Proponents of the lottery program point out that it has succeeded in diversifying the immigrant population in the U.S. It continues to gain in popularity throughout the world, and this past year there were over 20 million applicants.

So it comes as no surprise that many of this year's "winners" are devastated by the invalidation of previously posted results. A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted the plight of many invalidated winners. One winner's family sold their land to pay for the fees and to start a new life in the U.S. Winners started dreaming about their new life in the U.S. and planning their future. Their dream is over, and even though those applicants will be included in the new drawing this July 15th, few people truly believe they could ever win the lottery twice.

by Michelle Gee