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Dr. Klara Bilgin – Diversity Visa Lottery Program

(Feb. 14, 2018) Catherine Read interviewed Dr. Klara Bilgin, Dean of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia International University to discuss the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. Born in Bulgaria, Dr. Bilgin has spent her academic career in America, starting in 1997 when she attended the University of Delaware. She was fortunate to be a winner of the Diversity Lottery, and was happy to share her views on why she feels strongly that cutting this program would be detrimental to the United States.  In October of 2017, Donald Trump called for the complete shut-down of the program after a truck attack on civilians in New York City, citing the fact that the truck driver who committed the crime immigrated via the lottery from Uzbekistan.

The history of the Diversity Lottery Visa dates back to 1986, when it was originally designed to help Irish and Italian immigrants gain a legal path to citizenship . The program has evolved over time, and now includes a random lottery that allows entry for 50,000 lucky winners out of approximately 14 million applicants on an annual basis. Applicants apply online through the State Department in October of each year, and entrants find out if they have won the lottery by the following May. After the winners have been selected, an extensive vetting process then takes place to ensure that the applicant has the required education, 2 years of job experience, proper documentation, health records, and passes a safety and criminal background check.

Dr. Bilgin asserts that it would be a grave mistake to allow this program to be eliminated. In her travels across the globe, as an election observer and in academics, she meets people who put their hopes in this lottery year after year. These people are looking for a second chance to make a better life for themselves and their families, a quintessentially American ideal. From a political perspective, this lottery is a critical element in the Soft Power model. Millions of people across the globe will continue to be invested in the prosperity of the United States if they believe that they have a chance to come to the country. As people do win entry via the lottery, they will send money and gifts back home, creating a dense network of people who are intimately connected to the United States. This creates good will, a positive bond, and a strong connection with America.  Dr. Bilgin notes that if this program is eliminated we will make more enemies than friends,  and would send the wrong message to the rest of the world.  She also believes it would create a vacuum, and allow space for other world powers to step up and fill the void.

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