President Trump lashed out at the diversity visa program Wednesday in the wake of a terrorist attack in New York that killed eight people and injured dozens.
The attacker, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov of Uzbekistan, was granted legal permanent residency under the program, which is also known as the green card lottery.
Here are five things you need to know about the program:
It was enacted as a bipartisan compromise
The visa lottery began as part of a larger 1990 immigration reform bill pushed by then-Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mbad.) and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
President Trump called the provision a “Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump’s tax plan and the certainty of Democratic resistance Dems cheer Flake after scathing Trump speech Cruz throws support behind Roy Moore in Alabama Senate race MORE beauty” on Twitter Wednesday, referring to Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump’s tax plan and the certainty of Democratic resistance Dems cheer Flake after scathing Trump speech Cruz throws support behind Roy Moore in Alabama Senate race MORE (D-N.Y.), who was a House member when he introduced legislation that included language establishing the program and voted for the final bill.
But the Senate version of the bill ultimately pbaded the House and earned substantial Republican support, including from still-serving members like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) and immigration hard-liner Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.).
“Schumer couldn’t have done it, because it wasn’t even a House bill,” said Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis GutierrezPelosi rips Trump’s ‘heartbreaking’ warning to Puerto Rico Dem lawmaker rips Trump immigration proposals: ‘An extension of the white supremacist agenda’ White House plans to seek immigration cuts for DACA fix MORE (D-Ill.). “Basically, we adopted the Senate version and that was it.”
The lottery was intended to benefit large populations of East Coast Irish and Italian immigrants who had come to the country on other types of visas, but had overstayed them. During its first three years of the program, 40 percent of diversity visas were allocated to Irish citizens, according to the American Immigration Council (AIC).
To target migrants from low-migration countries, 55,000 visas are granted to randomly chosen individuals from countries that have sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the United States over the previous five years, according to the AIC.
The visas are distributed among countries divided into six regions, and no country can receive more than seven percent of allocated visas.
It primarily benefits African and Eastern European immigrants
Although Irish immigrants were the intended and real beneficiaries of the program as it was originally intended, African and Eastern European immigrants have received the bulk of diversity visas in recent years.
By region, in the 2014 fiscal year, the State Department issued 22,703 diversity visas to Africans, 8,500 to Asians, 18,904 to Europeans, two to North Americans (only Bahamian citizens are eligible in this region), 761 to people from Oceania, and 1,472 for immigrants from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, according to the State Department.
Natives of China, Mexico, the Philippines and other countries that send large numbers of immigrants to the United States are barred from participating in the lottery.
Because of the regional system and countrywide limits, it’s become the only way for citizens of certain countries to access legal permanent residency in the United States.
The applicants must have a high school education and work experience, but the requirements are much less stringent than for other categories of visas or green cards — the colloquial name for permanent residency permits.
It really is a lottery…
According to the AIC, beneficiaries are randomly selected by a computer.
Citizens of eligible countries must register for the lottery on a toll-free website run by the State Department. If they are selected in the random process, they’ll then go through the typical visa issuance steps, including a consular interview and filling in paperwork.
The chances of being selected are minuscule — less than one percent of applicants get selected to go on to the vetting process.
…But beneficiaries are vetted
As with any visa, beneficiaries go through a vetting process that includes background checks and consular interviews.
Applicants may already be in the United States under a different permit or visa, or they may apply from their countries of origin.
According to the AIC, applicants must submit paperwork proving they are admissible to the United States and can bring their spouse and dependent minors along.
Immigration hawks have been trying to end the program for decades
The program has never been popular with immigration hard-liners, because it’s a source of relatively unskilled labor in the United States.
But the program hasn’t attracted much attention because it accounts for a relatively low number of the total yearly immigrants.
Roy Beck, founder and president of immigration reduction group NumbersUSA, said his main qualm with the visa lottery is that it displaces low-skilled American workers.
“The fact that there have been some very famous cases of really bad actors that have come through this or linked to this is a matter of circumstance,” said Beck. “The fact that somebody that’s come through this program has done horrific things — we don’t regard that as being the primary problem with this program.”
Still, Democrats on the left see the movement to end the program as racially charged.
“This isn’t for Salvadorans to get here, this isn’t for Mexicans to get here,” said Gutierrez.
He added that former Soviet countries, like Uzbekistan, “already have extreme vetting” for the visa program.
Gutierrez also questioned the logic of eliminating a program that boasts more than 1.5 million participants over the actions of one person.
“I’ll tell you why they want to eliminate the program,” he said. “Because they see it as non-European — I’ve always believed that.”