January 11, 2018 1:02PM

What to Do with Diversity Green Cards in the DACA Deal

A surprising Politico story this morning laid out the contours of a rough deal to legalize the DACA recipients.  There are several welcome developments.  First, it would be a wider DREAM Act that goes beyond the DACA recipients.  In exchange, it would restrict the legalized DREAMers from sponsoring their parents (essentially duplicating current law), but it does allow the parents 3-year renewable legal status.  This is a fine compromise.  Second, it would not eliminate any of the family-sponsored green card categories, a wonderful development.  Third, it would use the 50,000 annual diversity green cards, also known as the visa lottery, to legalize Salvadorans here on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who just had their status canceled (this status will expire in 18 months).  This third point is the most potentially troubling depending on what happens to those green card numbers after the 200,000 or so Salvadorans are legalized.

If the green cards from the diversity visa that are allocated to legalize those on TPS are canceled after the Salvadorans are legalized, then this would be a bad move.  Green cards are rare and valuable commodities that are beneficial to the United States and to the immigrants themselves.  The Salvadorans should be legalized, but not at the cost of reducing legal immigrants by substantially more.


I propose three ways of dealing with the diversity green cards after the Salvadoran TPS holders are legalized:


  1. The 50,000 diversity green cards are recaptured and allocated to a new lawful permanent residency program based on the RAISE Act proposed by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA).  This new green card category would allocate 50,000 green cards a year to applicants living overseas who have the greatest number of points according to the RAISE Act’s proposed system.  This is a great way to co-opt a portion of the RAISE Act for a positive purpose while making the United States immigration system more merit-based – one of the stated goals of the RAISE Act.  Crucially, creating a new merit-based category does not cut legal immigration like the RAISE Act would nor would it destroy the current employment-based green card system.  It would also make sure that the recipients of this merit-based category continue to come from abroad, just like most of the recipients of the diversity green card lottery currently do.  The diversity visa program won’t last forever, so this is a less harmful way for it to end
  2. The diversity visa starts up again after all of the TPS workers are legalized without any other changes.  This would probably satisfy the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. 
  3. Congress auctions the 50,000 green cards every year to the highest bidders who are non-excludable under current law.  An annual auction of 50,000 green cards could raise substantial revenue for the federal government.  The median wage gain for immigrants from developing nations to the United States is about four-fold.  Estimates of the annual wage premiums for earning a green card are between $11,860 and $20,000 for adjustments of status, meaning that such an auction could command a very high price.  Some American firms have even offered to pay $10,000 to $15,000 for an H-1B visa or a green card.  Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker thought the government could sell a green card for $50,000 back in 2011.  Based on those statements, an auction of 50,000 green cards would raise $500 million to $2.5 billion per year and, potentially, far more.  This extra revenue could sweeten the pot.  Additionally, this new auction category would attract richer and more educated immigrants who think they have a promising economic future in the United States – a decent measure of merit.        


It’s wonderful that Congress is moving away from some of the more radical cuts in lawful immigration that have been discussed over the last year.  However, the future of the green cards currently allocated under the diversity visa is important to resolve.  There should not be any net-cut in the number of green cards issued.  If the diversity visa program is going to end then those green cards so be reallocated to more valuable uses rather than extinguished entirely.