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Groups slam Trump's call to end Diversity Visa Program

Groups slam Trump's call to end Diversity Visa Program
From Al Jazeera - November 4, 2017

Rights groups and legal experts have slammed US President Donald Trump's call to end the Diversity Visa Program after Tuesday's attack in New York City, saying his remarks are "rash" and a "vast overreaction".

Trump called for the end of the programme, which awards green cards to about 50,000 people every year, after Uzbek national Sayfullo Saipov allegedly drove a rented truck down a crowded bike path in New York, killing eight people and injuring at least a dozen others.

"The terrorist came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program'", Trump tweeted on Wednesday, adding that he wants a "merit based" programme instead.

A day later he said he was calling on Congress to "terminate" the programme, saying its "applicants are randomly selected in a random lottery and the people put in that lottery are not that country's finest".

But immigration rights groups and legal experts say labelling the programme as a strict lottery is "misleading" and punishing millions for the actions of one individual is "insane".

What is the Diversity Visa Programme?

Congress created the Diversity Visa Program under the 1990 Immigration Reform Act to aid populations that were underrepresented among US immigrants, Antonio Meloni, executive director of Immigration Advocacy Services, told Al Jazeera.

Aimed initially at increasing the immigrationof Irish nationals, immigrants of European-origin were the primary recipients of diversity visas. Gradually this has shifted to those of African-origin, who receive on average 40 percent of available visas, according to a Congressional Research Service study in 2011. Only those from eligible countries - those that sent less than 50,000 immigrants in the past five years - are able to apply.

In some years up to 16 million people have applied for the programme. About 100,000 applicants are selected from this pool, but only half will ultimately receive green cards, according to Meloni.

He added that the process of applying is more complex than the first step - filing an online application - would suggest.

"It's not as if you win the lottery and you come in," Meloni said.

Individuals applying this year during the one-month application period from October 18 to November 22 must provide documentation showing they have completed 12 years of education or two years of work.

This may not seem like much, Anu Joshi, director of immigration policy at the New York Immigration Coalition said, "but for a lot of people in other parts of the world, it's not that easy to prove, to get all of the documents".

'Winning' the lottery is no guarantee. Those selected must then apply during the second year for a visa and begin the same marathon of vetting procedures, including background checks and medical examinations, all residency applicants undergo. Only 7 percent of recipients can come from any one state, further limiting the chances of those from countries with large applicant pools, according to Meloni.

In regards to the risks to national security, Joshi told Al Jazeera that calling the diversity visa process a "lottery" is "misleading".

"Sure, diversity applicants throw their names into this pool, and if they get selected, that's the lottery part," Joshi said.

"After that, everything is the same as anyone else who is trying to emigrate to the United Statesthey face all of the same barriers in terms of national security threats."

It typically is not until the third year that candidates are interviewed by the US Department of State or consulates before their visas can be issued, Meloni added.

Who applies for the Diversity Visa Program?

Since its founding, well over one million immigrants have been admitted to the United States through the diversity visa programme, Meloni said.

Applicants from around the world, whether applying alone or with their families, do so with the same aim: To try to make a better life for themselves and their families, according to rights groups.

'Wo not stand by'

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