What is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program?

After the terror attack in New York City Tuesday that left at least eight dead, President Trump blamed a visa lottery program for allowing the suspect’s entry into the United States.

The “Diversity Visa Lottery Program,” as Trump referred to it, was “a Chuck Schumer beauty.”

ABC7 first reported that the suspect, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, came to the U.S. from Uzbekistan in 2010 through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed Wednesday that Saipov did enter the U.S. through the program, which allocates visas based on a lottery.

The program is aimed at natives of countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S.

In the State Department guidelines for the 2019 iteration of the program, there are “strict but simple eligibility requirements” applicants must meet. In fact, there are only two prerequisites. Each applicant must either have completed their high school education (or the equivalent of a high school education) or have completed two years of work “in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform.”

The other condition constitutes the diversity aspect of the program: Applicants must be from a country that has had fewer than 50,000 natives immigrate to the U.S. in the past five years. Among the countries that qualify in 2019 are South Africa, France, Germany and Tuvalu.

Applicants that meet those basic requirements are selected randomly by a computer program. The State Department says no single country will receive more than 7 percent of the total number of the 50,000 visas allotted to the program per year.

Trump’s attribution of the program to Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, is a stretch.

In 1990, Schumer, then a House member, introduced an immigration bill that included a proposal to admit “diversity immigrants” from “low-admission regions” to be determined by the attorney general. That bill became part of another more ambitious immigration bill, which passed the House 231-192. The Senate version passed 89-8, and then President George H.W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990 into law in November of that year.

After Trump’s comments, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., pointed out that Schumer was in the so-called Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group of senators who made a push for broad immigration reform in 2013. The bill they wrote, which passed the Senate but didn’t make it past the House, would have eliminated the diversity program.



Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he wants Congress to end the lottery program.

“I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program,” he said. “Diversity sounds nice. It’s not nice. It’s not good.”

(Cover tile photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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