Expand the Green Card Lottery, Not Eliminate It

On Friday, I (more or less) endorsed Pres. Trump’s new immigration reform proposal. It would, according to reports, offer a much more generous amnesty for the “dreamers” than has been proposed by the Democrats, and would restrict family-based immigration to the nuclear family. It would also end the so-called visa lottery, under green cards are granted at random to people who don’t have the family or employment connections required of mainstream immigration categories. (I don’t think we need a Wall, and prefer a strong E-Verify program, but I won’t address that here.)

My emphasis in this post will be on the lottery, which I actually believe should be expanded, not eliminated. To explain that, though, I must review what I have been saying (for 21 years!) about immigration rights for the extended family, meaning sponsoring one’s (typically retirement age) parents and adult siblings for immigration.

The term chain migration has been discussed enough in recent months that I need not define it here. The point is that by making skillful use of the parent and sibling provisions in the law, together with the fact that if A is granted a green card then his/her spouse gets one too, immigrant hopefuls often assemble long chains in which the first link has no connection whatsoever to the later ones. This is an abuse, contrary to the American spirit.

And in spite of the protestations by Democrats these days that ending chain migration is “anti-family,” the fact is that in the last 10 years there has been strong support in BOTH parties for ending it. Contrary to the efforts by some to paint Trump as an ogre for proposing an end to chain migration, the liberal democracies Canada and Australia don’t allow it either.

Among other reasons for its policy, Canada in particular wanted to remedy the huge expense to the government of providing for the immigration of elderly parents. In the U.S., this means SSI cash, Medicare health benefits, senior housing and so on. I recall seeing a statistic somewhere that 80% of the medical expenses one incurs in one’s lifetime come in the final two years of life. All this for people who have never worked a day in their life in the U.S.

The term “chain migration,” long established in bipartisan discussions of immigration policy, has become a dirty word in some circles of late. The preferred term, family reunification, is misleading. After all, the sponsoring immigrant voluntarily disunified with his/her family by coming here in the first place. “Reunification” remedies a problem of their own making.

Nevertheless, I strongly oppose replacing the extended-family immigration categories by a points-based system like those of Canada and Australia, as the RAISE Act would do. Again, I philosophically am opposed to any elitist system.

Note carefully, by the way, that the impact of RAISE would work out eventually to a situation in which the vast majority of those admitted to the country would be those whose presence in the current labor pool I regard to be so injurious to U.S. citizens and permanent residents in STEM fields — international students of mediocre quality at American universities. Mind you, I think immigration policy should be extremely welcoming to the genuine Best and Brightest (more on this below), but the vast majority of foreign grad students in STEM are actually somewhat weaker than their American counterparts; coupled with the demonstrable displacement effects, this is a grave problem.

My solution would be to modify RAISE in a more diverse, less elitist manner. A rough, back-of-the-envelope version would be as follows: Minimum criteria would be established, say

  • Graduation from high school (a big deal in much of the Third World).
  • Serviceable level of English, say U.S. primary school level.
  • Either a university degree OR evidence of having run a business (possibly small, family-based) successful enough to support a family.

These criteria would apply to the applicant, while the English criterion would apply to the spouse, if any. Green cards would then be granted at random to this applicant pool, instead of granting cards in the order of point totals.

I would continue the current National Interest Waiver program, under which exceptionally talented individuals can apply on their own for green cards. Actually, I have proposed broadening its scope. I would end the EB-series green cards, including EB-1. As to H-1B, I would subject it to very stringent conditions, especially to address its current role in fueling the rampant age discrimination in the tech fields, and would limit it to three years. Optional Practical Training would either have its original 12-month limitation restored, or would be eliminated outright.



36 thoughts on “Expand the Green Card Lottery, Not Eliminate It

  1. I agree, I don’t like the “elitist” systems on ethical grounds and especially as they include the H-1B types of programs that hurt Americans.


  2. Now how are we solving the problem of backlogs with this proposal?

    You lost me (and many like me) after the “We let folks in based on lottery (or) by NIW and we remove the rest of EBs and have tight control on H1”. Is this supposed to remove the golden handcuffs? How so?


    • I was not addressing the backlog issue. It’s not of primary interest to me, and it would be a nonissue in the future, where there would be no “golden handcuffs” for green cards. As to how to deal with the current backlog, it is a separate issue.


      • >> I was not addressing the backlog issue ..
        >> where there would be no “golden handcuffs” for green cards

        Yes, I know you are not interested in the current backlogs;nor am I. Although it will continue to be an issue whether we are interested in solving it or not.

        And there would be backlogs created even with your proposal => more handcuffs => more American job losses. It’s a simple number game as I see it. We have ‘x’ number of greencards (lottery or otherwise and then we have countries with billion+ folks – now what are the chances of all of our lottery slots being taken away by folks from those countries – *cough* india *cough* china)


        • Well, we haven’t talked here about how large the lottery should be, but obviously it should be no larger than the total number of green cards we wish to give out each year. NIW would be small. We decide approximately how many refugees/asylees we want to take, and basically all of the rest of the slots go to the lottery. NO backlog.

          Personally, I would keep the per-country caps, but again, that is a separate issue.


          • >>> it should be no larger than the total number of green cards we wish to give out each year. NIW would be small.

            The key is to keep the LPR pipe flat.

            That said,

            1) Age issue persists and will worsen — Lottery (or NIW for that matter) *will* bring in more vibrant, diverse and most importantly young folks.

            2) NIW would be the new “H-1B” — Einsteins would fill that queue from certain countries (given that there would be country caps in your proposal) and since NIW is outside of the lottery system.


          • Matloff, I would like to hear your opinion on the per country caps and why you would like to keep them.


          • Over the years I have been neutral on the country caps for the green cards. To me, if the H-1B and green card programs were reformed properly, there would be no backlogs; indeed, we would never reach the caps.

            However, in recent months I have been leaning toward retaining the country caps for H-1B/green cards, and would support them on the Diversity Lottery as well. After all, it is the DIVERSITY lottery, right? Another point is that there are increasing concerns of foreign nations engaging in extraterritoriality operations, though their emigres in the U.S., to influence the U.S. government and other U.S. power structures; these are quite disturbing.


          • Apportion the green cards by qualified applicant counts for the countries with each country with applicants guaranteed a minimum number.


  3. This strikes me as an immigration policy whose primary purpose is to benefit people from other countries, rather than benefiting Americans, and as such I oppose it.

    With an “elitist” points-based system, even if the people we get aren’t actually the best and the brightest, they will still tend to be on the right hand side of the bell curve, which will make them less likely to burden the country. I can’t imagine a good reason to accept any immigrants from the left hand side of the curve, except to show off what goooood people we are for accepting them. And I just don’t think that’s a very good reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t agree with the basic concept of the bell curve, if you mean “intelligence,” but as you can see, I want to bring in quality immigrants, whatever that means. I do subscribe to the notion that immigration enriches our culture, adds spirit and so on, so I would like to have some beyond what we might have for strictly economic reasons.


  4. It’s interesting to note that bring one’s parents from a foreign, lower-cost-of-living country, to the U.S., a very high-cost-of-living country, puts a greater economic burden on the sponsoring adult. Many Americans retire and move overseas where their dollar goes further; it seems more sensible that parents would stay in their low-cost home countries, where they have lived their entire lives and are familiar with the language, the culture, and the laws.


      • >> The motivation for many immigrants to sponsor their parents to come here is to get free babysitting.

        It seems that they (parents) are here to suck our medicaid/related perks that they would be getting free due to their age than they are here for babysitting!


        • Yes, the access to U.S. medical care — and free of charge — is a powerful draw.

          The classic quote was blurted out by Yvonne Lee, the Chinese-American activist community’s liaison to the Clinton White House. She said that if welfare were not available to elderly immigrants, they would not immigrate in the first place, and that would undermine Chinese-American political clout.


    • Too many sponsored family members, not only parents, end up on welfare. Over the past 12 years I have found many discussions about sponsoring disabled siblings who are incapable of living alone

      As part of the chain, a US citizen can sponsor a stepchild who at 21 can sponsor the other parent..


  5. Interesting proposal. Let me just review for my own benefit. You would “expand the green card lottery” to include all countries, with the number of green cards awarded to be equal to some predetermined total annual green cards minus those used for NIW and refugees/asylees. The H-1B would be limited to 3 years and would not be eligible for conversion to a green card.

    As one commenter wrote above, I would be concerned about heavy concentration in just a few countries like China and India.

    Also, I read at CIS.org that just the nuclear family immigration is about 300,000 per year. We only create about 2 million jobs per year, and wages have been stagnant for a long time (partially due to high immigration), in a country that’s plenty diverse. With that in mind, perhaps the more compassionate policy and the one most in the national interest would be just to end the lottery. Also, do not have a point system either. Just keep it to NIW, refugees/asylees, and nuclear-family immigration.


    • Again, the issue of the distribution among countries is a separate issue. I’d be happy to retain per-country caps. And again, the total number of immigrants per year is a separate issue. I agree that it should be reduced, but certainly not to 0.


      • It seems like people like Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. David Perdue don’t want country quotas. Are they too dumb to not know that India and China would immediately flood the system? Do you think they are purposefully favoring those 2 countries?


        • Actually, I do think that. According to the Washington Post, when Trump infamously disparaged immigration from Haiti and Africa, he said he would prefer immigration from Norway AND ASIA. Again, you can decide whether you think that is good or bad.


  6. Here’s the big problem: these folks haven’t considered the other part of the equation of what’s creating a huge line for GC in the first place. You have foreign born USC that are filing petitions for their extended family members each passing day. You have 85,000 H1bs coming in each year which is adding up to the total amount of existing H1bs. You’ve got OPTs on 3 year extensions who are also getting immediate EB GC sponsorship (LinkedIn, WePay, Microsoft sponsor OPTs if they aren’t from a backlogged country). You have got the L1 visa folks who get the EB-1C sponsorship. As you can see, the back-end just keeps growing and growing and growing. Congress hasn’t fixed this, yet these guys want to discuss reducing immigration through other channels. Are they totally clueless about this back-end problem?


    • What you iterate is for benefit of industry and in industry’s control. Congress is well aware of back-end, and have been expanding this for decades.
      By the way, the 85K H1Bs are only the H1B definition that’s capped. There are 4 categories of H1B that aren’t capped, and so the annual number of those alone are well beyond 85K.


  7. I like the lottery system. I do, however, want a part of the lottery visa quota open to all no matter their level of education and command of English. Our ancestors who came before WW1 generally had few skills and had to learn English. Their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren generally did much better; many were part of the”Greatest Generation”.

    I would use the current refugee and asylee quotas for this; those who would like to seek entry on these claims would have to compete in the proper education category. A lottery for the uneducated and low skilled is necessary to stop illegal entry because one of the criteria would have to be that the applicant and dependents could never have been illegally present for any reason.

    If one has no hope to enter as a skilled worker because of lack of opportunity for education, they have no hope of coming to the US under the proposals. I actually have a great deal of sympathy for the law abiding illegals who are fleeing oppression in their homelands; many are just like my grandparents and will raise children who will contribute to the US.; However, I cannot abide the current system where there are such blatant violations of our borders and the entitlement attitudes of the more educated illegals.We cannot choose which laws to obey; if we could, I’d pick paying taxes; a murderer would want to choose that get out of ,ail free law violation.

    As for the people who claim that all are entitled to enter, I disagree. My grandmother’s little sisters are the basis for my feelings. My great grandmother and great uncle came ahead to get settled leaving the 4 little girls to come accompanied by the eldest who was about 20. One of the youngest died on the voyage, and the other’s Ellis Island record shows that she was not admitted due to her health. She entry record shows that she died in the hospital there even though her mother was settled in the US. They did came legally yet were denied entry. There was no one marching in the streets for her.


      • >>>If English were required as a condition to immigrate, they WOULD learn English.

        Matloff, please remind me of the objective of these immigration rules in your view; is it to erect impossible barriers to immigration (lets make em walk on fire ……) or to ensure that the immigrants are empowered enough to assimilate and succeed?

        I do not see anything wrong with “Them learning English” – why would the fact that the immigrants are enterprising and driven to do it – bother you? Your prejudice against immigration is showing!!

        This smells like you want to end all immigration without saying “I want to end all immigration”, GoodLuck.


        • International, you have no idea what you are talking about, or who you are talking to.

          I am a former volunteer ESL teacher in San Francisco’s Chinatown. So quite contrary to your interpreting my statement,”If English were required as a condition to immigrate, they WOULD learn English,” as meaning I’m disappointed that an English requirement wouldn’t form a barrier, I worked very hard to HELP immigrants learn English.

          Stop saying stupid things. Cut the “white hegemony” crap. If you want to have a genuine exchange — which I hope you do — then quite the name calling and treat others with respect.


          • Mr. Matloff

            Agree with your observation on crude language from “International Student”. I also agree with multiple points you mentioned but my only concern is why should it be a lottery ? Why make it random ?

            How will it help the US and the Immigrants themselves by making it random ? My personal feeling is making it random lottery just takes the merit out of it.


          • Here is what I wrote in the posting you’re replying to:

            Note carefully, by the way, that the impact of [the merit-based] RAISE [Act] would work out eventually to a situation in which the vast majority of those admitted to the country would be those whose presence in the current labor pool I regard to be so injurious to U.S. citizens and permanent residents in STEM fields — international students of mediocre quality at American universities.

            Among other things, that implies that I am not a big believer in “merit.” Say someone has a PhD. What is so “meritorious” about that? You might think that that person has a lot of merit; I do not.

            The other point is that, as I stated, I would like to have a diverse immigrant pool.


  8. The need for immigration by unskilled labor in the 19th and early 20th century is very different from the situation now. Why shouldn’t the criteria change when the situation changes? Many of the educated persons coming on work visas do come from “poor” families (although there are also many who don’t).
    Why would you insist that that you should keep the lottery to be sure that some of the poor accepted are also uneducated? At least Norm’s proposal keeps a requirement for a college degree or business experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is essential to give the uneducated and low skilled people in Third World countries hope for a green card.. Until they have a legal way with the requirement to have always complied with US law and never violated a visa status and are able to become self supporting and unlikely to become dependent on welfare.

      I would also require those coming have a time limit for naturalization; become a citizen or return home.


      • Essential to whom?
        One billion people live in abject poverty – it is far better to promote sane principles of development (mostly rule of law and fighting corruption) than to offer a tiny, tiny fraction hope of a green card.
        Accommodating and integrating the poorest on earth is likely to be the detriment of the citizens already here, given the realities of the current world economy – as opposed to that of the nineteenth and early 20th century.


      • In what way is importing uneducated, low skilled third worlders beneficial to US national and economic interests? What value can they add to a country that is advanced far beyond the best that they could ever be capable of?

        I don’t believe in importing more foreign students who turn into H1Bs and other kinds of cheap labor either. Most foreign students I’ve encountered are rubbish: They are intellectually inferior to their American peers, and lack communication skills and work ethic.

        If a foreign student has won a gold medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad and has a scholarship from MIT, then let him attend college here. If a foreign professor has a Nobel Prize or a Fields Medal, then let him work here. If an investor brings in $1B and manages to create a large number of jobs for Americans, then let him live here. Otherwise, borders shut.


  9. Gotta agree with you there. The RAISE act is basically saying, hey Indians, no more GC backlog. All mediocre students in body shops and the intels, rejoice!


    • Very true. I have to say though, constantly conflating the Infosys dudes with the Intel ones is not correct. Some Intel ones are genuinely smart (not necessarily in terms of academics). Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft is a prime example.


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