Diversity Lottery Discriminates

Brad Sherman is a Democratic congressman whose district encompasses portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties

Over the past three decades, the United States has experienced an unprecedented rise in immigration, both illegal and legal. There is no comparable sustained period of immigration growth in American history.

The United States has embarked on a policy under which a limited number of slots are allocated among three important categories: those with special skills our country needs, family reunification and political refugees.

But the so-called diversity lottery--a 55,000-person lottery in which immigration slots are given away at random--remains an anomalous part of our nation’s immigration policy.

The diversity lottery is an unfair and unnecessary program that Congress should move to eliminate. Enacted in 1990, it is designed to favor countries that have a low level of immigration to the United States. It discriminates against American citizens who have family members waiting to immigrate, or employers badly in need of professionals with special skills.


The diversity lottery robs valuable immigration slots from these groups and hands them away at random to 55,000 people with no connection to the United States and no particular skills to contribute to the betterment of our nation.

With a visa waiting list that is currently backlogged, how can we justify admitting, without any wait, persons who win the lottery ahead of family and employer-sponsored immigrants?

Equally disturbing is the fact that the diversity lottery program does not require applicants to obtain an affidavit of support by a sponsoring family member or employer. In contrast, all applicants for family-based and employment-based visas must have a U.S. citizen willing to vouch that the immigrant will not become a burden on society.

The result is that the program invites into our nation immigrants more likely to become a burden on taxpayers should they fail to become self-sufficient.


The diversity lottery is discriminatory to people from nations deemed “over-represented” in U.S. immigration. People from China, Mexico, India, Canada, Vietnam, El Salvador and the Philippines are barred from participating in the lottery because they are among the leading countries of origin of legal immigrants to the United States.

For example, a Chinese scientist is denied a lottery chance to enter the United States although an Indonesian factory worker is welcome to a lottery ticket.

Is this in our national interest? A U.S. citizen faces a decade of delays in bringing his mother from the Philippines, even after proving he will support her and signing a binding contract to do so.

However, a woman from Sri Lanka is welcome to come here right now, if she gets one of 55,000 winning tickets--even if she has no family ties to the United States, no job prospects and no one responsible for her support.


The whole concept that we need a lottery to ensure the diversity of the immigrant flow is absurd. We are the most diverse country in the history of the world, and the immigrants coming to our shores represent hundreds of countries and thousands of regions, provinces and cultures.

Congress has the task of setting a national immigration policy that is both consistent and in the national interest. With a limited number of immigration spots each year, we must use the best rationale available for rewarding each. The diversity lottery meets no national need because there are no specific skills required for applicants.

There are various options for what could be done with additional immigration slots if the lottery were eliminated. Congress could reallocate the slots for family unification or could provide the Silicon Valley with the highly skilled professionals it needs for future expansion. Or we could simply lower the overall level of legal immigration. That is an important question that must be thoughtfully deliberated.

For now, we should move forward and pass legislation eliminating this arbitrary and unfair program.



Brad Sherman is a Democratic congressman whose district encompasses portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.