The ‘Diversity’ Green Card Lottery Was Originally for White Immigrants

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Every year, up to 50,000 people around the world are selected for the United States’ “diversity” visa lottery, out of around 14 million applicants. Yet despite its name, the lottery wasn’t originally intended to promote cultural and racial diversity in the U.S. Back when Congress introduced it in 1986, the goal was to ease immigration for Irish and Italian immigrants.

At the time, many Irish applicants didn’t have the right job skills or close-enough relatives in the U.S. (such as a sister, rather than an aunt) in order to immigrate. Though many Italians did have close relatives in the U.S., there was a huge backlog in applications that stalled the ease with which Italians had previously been able to enter the country.

The reason Congress sold this lottery as a “diversity” initiative was because “it’s not going to be politically feasible to tell people, ‘We have created a new visa for people who have no close family relationships in the U.S. and no job skills,’” says Anna Law, a political science professor at the City University of New York-Brooklyn College. “There’s a multiculturalism movement going on, so the creators of this program sort of wrapped themselves around the diversity language of it.”




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