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Fact Sheet: Diversity Visa Lottery

What are the avenues to obtain a green card in the United States?  

  • Family-Based – for immediate relatives of United States citizen or current green card holders.
  • Employment-Based – for priority workers, professors, or researchers; professionals with advanced degrees, special immigrant workers, and investors.
  • Refugee or Asylum Status – for those fleeing persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
  • Diversity Visa Lottery – for foreign nationals from countries with low immigration levels to the United States. The cap on diversity visas per year is 50,000.

How are applicants in each of these categories screened before receiving green cards?

All foreign nationals are screened and vetted in the same way before receiving a green card in any category. All prospective legal permanent residents to the United States are subject to extensive criminal and medical background checks. Biometric data is taken and compared against information systems housed by the FBI, DOJ, and DHS. Those databases flag individuals with criminal records, know and suspected terrorists, or those involved in illegal gang activity.1

Under the Trump administration, green card applicants are now subject to even more layers to the vetting processes – where United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) frequently waived the interview process for green card applicants in lower risk cases, President Trump’s Executive Order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” expanded the use of the in-person interviews to those using the employment-based track and for family members of refugees applying for provisional status (which precedes receiving a green card).

All foreign nationals are screened and vetted in the same way before receiving a green card in any category. 

What has President Trump said on vetting and the Diversity Visa Lottery since the October 31 terrorist attack in New York City?

Immediately after the attack, President Trump in a tweet called for the DHS to “step up our already Extreme Vetting Program.” It is yet unclear what this would entail in addition to the vetting measures already instituted, listed above.

Additionally, the president pointed out that the perpetrator the of deadly attack, Sayfullo Saipov, was a recipient of a green card through the Diversity Visa Lottery program. The president has called on Congress to terminate the Diversity Visa Lottery system and move to a merit-based immigration system. However, Saipov had been in the United States since 2010, and given that all green card categories are screened equally, it is highly unlikely that the fact of his status as a green card holder under the Diversity Visa Lottery is related to his subsequent terrorist act. Later reporting has indicated that he was radicalized during his time in the United States, long after he was vetted.

1For more information on immigrant and non-immigrant vetting procedures, please see our report: Balancing Priorities: Immigration, National Security, and Public Safety.
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