It is reasonable to grant a visa for education or investment but granting it by chance seems odd.

I'm not sure if any other country does the same but there should be reason(s) for this (except giving a chance to people from undeveloped countries to have a better life). Some guess:

  1. A scientific reason could be bypassing human-made rules (visa rules) which may prevent special kind of people come to U.S, in this interpretation lottery visa acts like what mutation does in biology.
  2. A reason which if mentioned may cause my first question get closed.

Is it known to public why such type of visa is offered by U.S government (benefits for U.S not immigrants)?

  • Wikipedia notes that 13 million people apply annually: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diversity_Immigrant_Visa Sounds like the lottery is needed to limit the immigrant flow to a reasonable rate. Why specifically 55k? I don't know.
    – user1530
    May 9, 2013 at 7:34
  • @DA: You mean who are waiting for lottery result won't immigrate illegally?
    – Xaqron
    May 9, 2013 at 12:34
  • I have no idea.
    – user1530
    May 9, 2013 at 15:38
  • Interesting article, but not sure how accurate it is: washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/07/11/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Nov 1, 2017 at 8:04
  • @AndrewGrimm - why are you asseting that the answers are "joking"? My answer is literally a copy paste reason from relevant Wikipedia article. I'll add the quote if you wish. Just because it reads like the Onion, doesn't mean it isn't an official US government law.
    – user4012
    Nov 1, 2017 at 12:50

4 Answers 4


The main official reason is "diversity".

Proof: the official program title is NOT "Green Card Lottery", it's "Diversity Immigrant Visa".

The lottery makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually and aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States, by selecting applicants from countries with low rates of immigration in the five years prior (Wikipedia)

The program's current iteration was established in S.358 - Immigration Act of 1990, passed by 101st Congress (1989-1990) - itself an amendment to 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. The specific section dedicated to the program is "PART 3--Diversity Immigrants"

Section 203, as amended by sections 111 and 121 of this Act, is further amended by inserting after subsection (b) the following new subsection: `(c) DIVERSITY IMMIGRANTS-
`(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in paragraph (2), aliens subject to the worldwide level specified in section 201(e) for diversity immigrants shall be allotted visas each fiscal year as follows:

The rest is basically just mechanics of the lottery in detail, not going into justifications/reasoning.

For extra bonus, "Testimony from Rosemary Jenks to the House Immigration, Border Security, and Claims Subcommittee" contains a detailed history of diversity visas (caveat: this is a testimony from a source lobbying for lowering immigration); and a far more cited and less speechifying version from the same organization is here.

  • 2
    So it acts to US society like what does mutation in biology and natural selection does the rest. Is there any public know elite migrated to US by DV lottery?
    – Xaqron
    May 13, 2013 at 14:02
  • @Xaqron - not that I'm aware of as far as elite migrating via the lottery (not impossible, but unlikely since elite tends to be able to easily get student/business visas)
    – user4012
    May 13, 2013 at 15:12
  • @Xaqron - ... but I seriously doubt that mutation/natural selection angle is the underlying reason to want diversity (as opposed to "fairness"). Otherwise, we'd ALSO have some sort of feedback mechanism to reject bad mutations.
    – user4012
    May 13, 2013 at 15:13
  • Maybe elite is not the right word as long as it refers to academy! Some great entrepreneur... I meant. Bad mutations don't need feedback, they are simply ignored. I'm curious to know if there were good ones. Know another reason as said in question and looked for more.
    – Xaqron
    May 13, 2013 at 15:31
  • @dvk - we'd ALSO have some sort of feedback mechanism to reject bad mutations In the army we called that a blanket party. May 22, 2013 at 19:49

At least in the case of H1-B visas, the annual quota is typically exhausted within a week. As a result, the volume of mail (and applications must be delivered by main) on the opening day will often overwhelm the system.

Since the USPS does not prioritize mail based on 'first-come, first-delivered,' not having a lottery would still not remove the randomness from the equation. As such, by making the lottery explicit, the vagaries of the USPS are factored out and made explicit by INS (excuse me, ICE) directly.

The only alternative, when the quota is this constrained, would be to either raise the qualification bar (going to a system like Australia's, in which applicants' skills are scored) or to expand the quota itself.

The number of H1-B visas itself is restricted to 65,000* based on agreements made with the Singapore and Chilean Free Trade Agreements (go figure!). In previous boom years, the cap is adjusted upwards, based on economic performance. The idea is to restrict the number of applicants to a number that "the economy can easily assimilate." That said, many hi-tech firms lobby regularly to increase that quota, because many businesses find the quota to be ridiculously low.

  • 3
    Never attribute to malice when simple incompetence will suffice. May 9, 2013 at 15:41
  • 3
    Re: last sentence... if you want cheap entertainment, post a question about H1Bs on Slashdot or some other such place and witness how ultra-liberal "anyone against amnesty now is an evil fascist" people there all suddenly turn into heavy-handed protectionists.
    – user4012
    May 10, 2013 at 0:56
  • This answers why a lottery is used, but not why the US is allocating visas to "even up" numbers in the first place.
    – Golden Cuy
    Nov 2, 2017 at 8:16
  • 2
    The USPS is currently irrelevant to the DV lottery because applications to enter the lottery must be submitted online.
    – phoog
    Nov 4, 2017 at 21:16

They do it for the same reason why some stadiums sell their good tickets by lottery.

They want everyone to have a chance to be able to immigrate to the United Utates.

If it were done by a non-chance system(such as first come first serve), then you would inevitably have people who are at the bottom of the criteria, and they would never be able to immigrate.

  • 3
    This is stating the obvious. I think the OP wanted to know why there's preference for "giving everyone a chance" as opposed to choosing more preferable type of people.
    – user4012
    May 10, 2013 at 0:59
  • It means that the US government has plausible deniability to decline to grant a visa to someone it does not want in with out explaining why. They just pull their name out of the lottery and as far as the applicant knows they just did not win.

  • The government has cover when it wants to award a DV Visa to someone. It simply states that someone's number was drawn and they have been awarded the visa.

  • It provides a method to keep people outside the US to believe their is hope of legal immigration to the US. With out that hope some people will resort to illegal immigration which creates bigger problems. Sadly this has the effect of deterring the types of people that will follow the laws and act responsibly meaning that the illegal immigrants are less likely to be concerned about following other laws.

  • It provides cover for US Intelligence agencies that want to collect intelligence on someone who has applied. They can do so under the cover of a back ground check subsequent to a request for a visa.

  • 4
    These all sound rather conspiratorial.
    – user1530
    May 9, 2013 at 20:53
  • 1
    It would probably have sounded crazy if I said that the US Government was arming the Cartels, or selling arms to Iran to fund the Contras who hate america as much as they did the regime in power... but they did that too. This is kindof a no brainer if you think of it like that... May 10, 2013 at 2:26
  • 1
    This answer deserves more up-votes. Last item is what I did remove from my question and "hope of legal immigration" is a noticeable reason.
    – Xaqron
    Jun 23, 2017 at 16:36
  • 2
    The US doesn't need the lottery to cover capricious visa denials. They don't generally explain visa denials in any detail as it is.
    – phoog
    Nov 4, 2017 at 21:20

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