The DOS just announced that a record 15 million people around the world entered the 2011 Diversity Lottery program. This program offers an expedited path to permanent residence in the United States. Approximately 100,000 “winners” are randomly selected by an electronic draw each year, but only 50,000 are eligible to secure the green cards that they will need to enter and remain in this country.

The Diversity Lottery program was launched in 1990 to promote more diversity in our immigrant population. The program offers citizens of foreign countries that may be underrepresented due to quotas in our immigration laws the opportunity to secure a green card. Countries that have a large number of their citizens in the United States – such as Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines – are excluded. There is no limit on the number of times that a person can apply, but no country can represent more than 7 percent of the total lottery winners each year. Last year, nationals from Ethiopia, Egypt, and Nigeria received the largest number of immigrant visas under the program.

The Diversity Lottery program remains controversial, and Representative Bob Goodlatte (RVA) has already introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to abolish the program. Although the number of visas covered by the program is small, critics contend that the visas should go to foreign nationals who better serve the national interest. Given the current political climate, the program is likely to be part of the overall national debate on comprehensive immigration reform.