Bloggings on Immigration Law

by Roger Algase

STEM Visas Are Important For America. But Are They Important Enough To Justify Betraying Our Principles As A Nation Of Diverse Immigrants?

It is certainly welcome news that America's two major parties are able to agree in principle on anything, especially something as important as making more immigrant visas available for high tech STEM professionals. But is it worth the trade off which the Republican supporters of a proposal to make 50,000 additional green cards a year available to STEM graduates of US universities are demanding? Or is this a devil's bargain which should be avoided at all costs, in order to preserve American values which are even more important and fundamental than the worthy goal of attracting more highly skilled workers into our economy? 

The Republicans are offering to support the additional STEM visas, but at the price of abolishing the diversity visa lottery, which now enables 50,000 people per year from low immigration countries in every part of the world to obtain green cards as long as they meet only minimal qualifications. The diversity lottery has been especially popular in Africa south of the Sahara. 

Of the 100,000 people who were notified by the State Department in FY 2012 that they had been picked for the lottery (since the DOS apparently believes in "double booking", on the theory that many of the lottery winners will not pursue their green card applications or will not qualify), approximately 40,000, or 40 per cent, were from sub-Saharan Africa. In Asia, Bangladesh has been one of the beneficiaries of the diversity lottery. (High immigration countries such as India and China, not to mention the UK and Canada, among some other western countries, are not eligible.)

The visa lottery originally began in 1989, when it was known as the AA-1  -  for "Adversely Affected" -  program.  Its original intention was to make more green cards available for people from white countries, especially Ireland. To the best of my recollection as an attorney who represented a fair number of people applying under that program, the only non-white countries included then were Japan and Indonesia. 

I do not recall hearing very much opposition to the AA-1 program then by the people who are so anxious to do away with the diversity lottery today. In a forthcoming post, I will look at the main arguments that have been made during the past decade against the diversity lottery (DV-1 program), in its current, more racially neutral incarnation to see if they have any validity. I believe that most objective observers will see that these arguments are without foundation.

The diversity visa lottery represents one of America's most cherished principles, namely that anyone who wants to and is able to contribute to American society, regardless of race or color, should be given a fair and equal chance to do so. This is especially true for an increasingly diverse 21st century America. Abolishing this program, no matter how great the inducement to do so might seem, would be a big step backwards.

On this issue, immigration supporters need to show some courage and backbone, not readiness to make a Faustian compromise.

About The Author

Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.