U.S. Senate Takes CIS' Advice and Imposes Fees on the Visa Lottery

By David North, November 14, 2011

The U.S. Senate has established a $30 fee for all aliens entering the annual visa lottery, and the House is expected to follow.

The Center for Immigration Studies suggested just such a step in May 2010 in a Backgrounder entitled "Charging More for Immigration: Closing Financial Loopholes in the U.S. Migration Process".

The Senate actually did a little more than I suggested in that document. As one of a number of revenue-enhancing measures, such as simply charging a small fee for all land-border crossers, I had proposed a $20 fee for those entering the lottery; at the moment only the 50,000 or so winners have to pay a fee.

Since there were some eight million entrants in the most recent lottery, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, if the level of interest remains the same, that would produce $240 million, close to a quarter of a billion. The level of interest will probably drop, however, with the fee.

The visa lottery is totally extraneous, allowing people to migrate to the U.S. with no family connections and no needed skills (beyond the ability to claim a high school diploma), and it should be terminated. But until Congress can get around to doing that, it is useful that some money will be raised in the process.

The $30 fee on the visa lottery will have a mild effect on the income level of those filing, in that the fee will discourage some low-income people from applying. There is another, existing screening process that is rarely discussed. To file for the lottery one must do so on the internet, meaning that only those with some computer skills, or those spending some money to hire someone with computer skills, will apply.

Despite those factors an over-populated, under-employed nation does not need any more people, and the program should be stopped.

Interestingly, the fee passed the Senate in one of those congressional packages that are so common. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the chair of the Senate's immigration subcommittee, and ever the deal-maker, put together this one. The other element in the deal was a provision to extend Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for disabled and elderly refugees who were on the verge of losing that eligibility; the bill, S 1721, extended the benefits to this group throughout fiscal year 2012.

Those getting the additional 12 months of SSI benefits are green card holders now receiving those benefits who have not become naturalized, as the law requires.

The $30 fees, by the way, will not go to either of the agencies handling the program, the State Department or the Department of Homeland Security. The fees will go straight to the Treasury.

Here is a description of the welfare part of the legislation provided by the Social Security Administration:

On October 17, 2011, the Senate passed by voice vote S. 1721, the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act of 2011. The bill would extend for one year the refugee eligibility policy that was previously authorized for a 3-year period (fiscal years 2009 through 2011) by the 2008 extension law, the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act (P.L. 110-328). The bill now moves to the House for further action.

Following are the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) extension provisions:

  • Would continue to extend the 7-year SSI eligibility period for refugees, asylees, and certain other humanitarian immigrants (including victims of human trafficking) to nine years during the period of October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012, if they sign a declaration indicating they have made a good faith effort to pursue U.S. citizenship;
  • Would continue to exempt from time-limited SSI eligibility these specified noncitizens (defined above) during the period of October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012, if they have naturalization applications pending or if they are awaiting the citizenship swearing-in ceremony; and,
  • Would be effective retroactively, beginning October 1, 2011, and would expire September 30, 2012.

Just how a one-year extension when added to a "seven-year SSI eligibility period" equals "nine years" was not explained.

The one-year extension, as noted above, follows a three-year extension voted in 2008. This welfare-capping legislation also includes the soft provision that aliens can avoid actually becoming citizens by "signing a declaration indicating that they have made a good faith effort to pursue U.S, citizenship."

The latter provision, in effect, vitiates the citizenship requirement.

The final section of the bill, number 4, reads as follows:

The budgetary effects of this Act, for the purpose of complying with the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, shall be determined by reference to the latest statement titled "Budgetary Effects of PAYGO Legislation" for this Act, submitted for printing in the Congressional Record by the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, provided that such statement has been submitted prior to the vote on passage.

This apparently means that the cost of the welfare extension will be met by the imposition of the fees; if this is true it is unfortunate, because it means that the always powerful pro-welfare-for-refugees lobby will want to continue the diversity visa to support the refugees on SSI who have not become citizens, though they have had years to do so.

Incidentally, anyone poor enough to be receiving SSI is by definition poor enough not to need to pay USCIS naturalization fees, which could, otherwise, run into hundreds of dollars per application. So there are no financial barriers for these individuals to become citizens. Further, the naturalization rules are routinely eased for the disabled and the elderly.

I wonder if this one-year extension, which went through the Senate on a voice vote, will follow the tradition of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a status which once created by the Department of Homeland Security, is extended year after year after year, as we have noted in at least one earlier blog.

Since the temporary SSI status will expire, again, on September 30, 2012, a few weeks before election day, we will have an opportunity to see how that plays out, some 10-11 months hence.