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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Why Congress Should Save the Green Card Lottery

By Allison Schrager
December 9, 2014

The partisan fight over immigration reform is far from over, but one casualty is likely to be Green Card lottery, the tiny program that confers legal immigration status on people from countries underrepresented in America’s melting pot. The senate’s immigration bill, currently in legislative limbo, proposes ending it, and analysts told the Wall Street Journal the Green Card lottery probably won’t survive regardless of whose bill makes the final rules.
The arguments against the lottery boil down to a belief that luck alone does not merit legal immigration status. There are more than 4 million people waiting for a Green Card, many for decades and many with families waiting for them in the U.S.. Business leaders cite a skill shortage among American workers and say they need capable workers from abroad. Even though the lottery accounted for less than 5 percent of new Green Cards, critics say those cards should have gone to more demonstrably deserving candidates.
The problem with that argument is that family ties and job skills aren’t the only predictors of success. Sometimes you don’t know which immigrants will really add economic value. Case in point: the lottery was largely responsible for America’s recent—and successful—African immigration boom.
In 1990, less than 2 percent of America’s foreign-born population were African, now nearly 4 percent are. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 42 percent of African-born adults living in the United States have a bachelor’s degree, significantly higher than the 28 percent of native-born Americans and the 27 percent of foreign-born adults who do. African-born immigrants also have higher rates of labor force participation. (To be fair, they also face higher poverty rates.)
Kader Karamon, now an economist at Freddie Mac in Washington, D.C., won the Green Card lottery in 2000, when he was 23. At the time, he was living in Togo, where, he said, limited opportunity and rampant corruption made him feel like he was “wasting his life.”
Karamon came to the U.S. with a high school diploma and little English. After he arrived, he worked a series of menial jobs; in 2002 he enrolled as a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. A few years after graduating, he moved to Paris and completed a Masters degree. He never doubted he’d return to America. “The US affords more opportunity to express yourself as a foreigner,” he explained.
For Karamon and others like him, the Green Card lottery was their only option. Legal immigration normally requires family or employer sponsorship, refugee status, or enough money for a student visa. In 1996, 40 percent of permanent African  immigrants came via the lottery. As the African diaspora population has grown, more Africans have American relatives who can serve as sponsors. Now only 18 percent of permanent African immigrants are lottery winners; more than half have been sponsored by family. But Africans still make up about half of all lottery-winning immigrants, about 20,000 each year since the mid-1990s.
Despite the success of the African immigrant population, the lottery has fallen out of favor. “A lottery is not a way to run an immigration system,” Cornell immigration professor Stephen Yale-Loehr told the Journal. “It doesn’t strengthen family ties, promote our economic interests, or rescue refugees. Congress should abolish the program.”

That kind of thinking represents a fundamental shift in American values. The Green Card lottery most closely resembles immigration policy at the turn of the last century—where Europeans with few ties and little education were freely accepted. On paper, Karamon didn’t seem like good immigration material—no money, no family, no discernible skills. He may be an exceptional case, but the relative, recent success of the African immigrant population suggests it still may be worth taking a chance on a lucky few.

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

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