(WALL STREET JOURNAL) A record 15 million people around the world this year entered America’s green-card lottery, an immigration program that offers a quick path to legal, permanent U.S. residence for 50,000 people a year—selected purely by the luck of the draw.
The so-called “diversity visa program” lottery drew nearly 25% more entries than last year, according to the State Department. The limit of 50,000 green-card recipients through the program was established years ago by Congress. Some lawmakers are now calling for an end to the program.
The annual lottery creates a buzz across the developing world. Applicants from Kenya to Khazakstan brave lines at Internet kiosks to fill out electronic entries. In the final hours of the month-long enrollment period, which this year closed Nov. 3, entries were rolling in at the rate of 62,000 an hour.
Recent winners already in the U.S. include cab drivers, professional athletes, Internet entrepreneurs and military personnel.
“I would never have started a company that created value in the United States if I hadn’t won the lottery,” said Adam Gries, a 29-year-old Israeli who runs an Internet start-up in San Francisco. “I would be creating companies in Israel.”
Critics say the program poses security risks, lures uneducated immigrants and enables individuals with no connection to the U.S. to get into the country more quickly than those sponsored by relatives and employers.
“More and more people are learning about this program and are dumbfounded that we have it in the first place,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), who has introduced legislation to abolish it. “Our chances have never been better to kill it,” he added, following his party’s successes in the midterm elections and amid high unemployment in the U.S.
Launched in 1990 to promote diversity in the immigrant population, the green-card lottery is now open to people from almost anywhere in the world, except countries that already boast a large number of nationals in the U.S., including Mexico, China, India and the Philippines. No special skills are required: A high-school diploma suffices. Lottery winners eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship.
The number of entries has been rising each year. This year’s total is more than 2.5 times greater than five years ago, when the lottery attracted 5.5 million entries. Immigration scholars say possible reasons include the spread of Internet connectivity and increased awareness of the lottery, which costs nothing to enter.
“There is no faster way to get a green card to come to the United States,” said Mark Jacobsen, an immigration lawyer. “The American dream is held out as a torch to the entire world.”
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