The Green Card Lottery has its roots in The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This congressional act did away with race, ethnicity and national origin from the immigration selection process, allocating a specific amount of Green Cards per country. Those immigrant families currently residing in the United States were able to petition for family members abroad to receive a Green Card to legally live in America.
Initially, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 favored immigrants, mostly from Europe. However, due to the elimination of ethnicity and national origin from the immigration selection, more Asians and Latin Americans immigrated to America; accounting for about 2/3 of the immigrants by 1975. In 1978, the U.S. Congress passed a law that brought the Western Hemisphere countries in, which added more to the diversity of immigrants coming to America.
First Green Card Lottery
With hardly any close family members to petition for them coupled with the new work certification requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the majority of the Irish had difficulty qualifying for a Green Card. As a result, many of the Irish who received temporary, non-immigrant visas to the United States overstayed on their tourist visa.
There was a huge backlog of Italians wishing to immigrate to America by the 1970’s. The elected officials representing the Italian and Irish American constituencies joined together to help more immigrants come to the United States.
They used two arguments:
- Introduce a new concept of “new seed immigrants.” This would allow young, single immigrants to immigrate under this visa category and be exempt from the labor requirements;
- Speak of the great contributions of past immigrants that came and helped build America.
It was not until the passing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that the first Green Card Lottery was born. Congressman Brian J. Donnelly and Senator Edward Kennedy created the NP-5 program, giving the first 10,000 applicants a Green Card to the U.S. The United States Department of State received over 1.4 million applications during the 7 day registration period in 1987. The top 3 Green Card Lottery country winners were Ireland (3,112), Canada (2,078) and Great Britain (1,181).
Expanding the Green Card Lottery
After the passing of the Immigration Act of 1990, the Green Card Lottery changed in two ways:
- It allocated an additional 30,000 Green Cards; making the total – 40,000; and
- Changing it from a “first come, first served” program to a true lottery. Each application would be assigned a different number and would enter a pool. A computer would then randomly choose numbers from the pool and the selected numbers would indicate the winning applications.
In 1995, a new change came to the Green Card Lottery, allocating 10,000 additional visas to the program. Since then, 50,000 Green Cards would be the final number given each year to countries underrepresented in the United States’ immigrant pool.
What began as a resolution to address the Irish and Italian immigrant issues facing the United States during the 1960’s and 70’s has become one of the most famous US governmental programs. The United States is the only country that has a Green Card Lottery, giving foreign nationals the right to get a Green Card and have a shot at the American Dream.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 contributed to increased immigration to the United States, which combined with subsequent reforms, has ultimately resulted in one out of every five Americans being either first or second generation immigrants. The United States is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. In fact, over 300 languages are spoken in America and every religion is represented.
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