Senate proposal to change visa program met with skepticism

April 19, 2013 at 11:29 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate proposal to replace diversity visas with a merit-based program is being met with skepticism by some civil rights groups and black lawmakers.

The current proposal is to create at least 120,000 merit visas a year by 2015 that would be replace the 55,000 diversity visas that have been doled out annually via lottery.

Advocates said they haven't seen evidence yet a new merit-based program is an acceptable replacement for the diversity visas.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington office, is advocating the diversity program be retained, the Washington publication The Hill reported Friday.

"At this point, we are urging lawmakers not to eliminate the diversity visa program," Shelton said. "This is one of the places in the bill that needs to be addressed. We will work with our friends in the Senate, and we have started working with our friends in the House as well."

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., a leader of the Congressional Black Caucus' immigration task force, said his group also fears the proposal could have a major impact on African and Caribbean immigrants seeking to enter the United States, The Hill said.

"With respect to the abolishment of the diversity visa lottery program, the CBC is extremely concerned that it might limit the future flow of immigration for people from certain parts of the world," Jeffries said. "That's troublesome, and we're evaluating the merit-based visa proposal to determine if it's fair and balanced."

Republican lawmakers have wanted to eliminate the diversity program, contending it is ripe for fraud and endangers national security.

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