Red light on US green card
Washington - The United States reform plans could spell the end of the green card lottery of which Africans are the main benefactors.
The green card programme, which has permitted thousands of Africans to settle in the land of the free, would be eliminated under revised immigration laws which are currently under debate in Washington.
The ambitious reform project which would provide papers for million undocumented immigrants, contains a clause that would do away with the lottery.
In its place would be a more selective immigration system based on skills, career and family ties.
For years the lottery has been in the crosshairs of Republicans, who control the House of Representatives and say it adds no value to the American economy.
"It's clear that there are better ways to allocate visas than to randomly give them out through a lottery system," said Bob Goodlatte, the Republican who leads the House Judiciary Committee.
"Our immigration laws shouldn't be based on the luck of the draw; rather, they should be designed strategically to benefit our country."
The 'diversity visa,' as it is known formally, is set aside for people from countries that do not experience a lot of emigration.
The only prerequisite for applicants is a high school diploma or two years of work experience.
Between 2010 and 2012, one in five Africans who came to the US to stay did so through the lottery.
That made it the third most common method, at 21% of the total, after family reunification (43%) and refugee status or asylum seekers (23%).
By comparison, in the same period only 10% of Europeans who became permanent residents and 3% of Asians did so through the lottery.
"It has proven to be a way of helping those who come from the continent of Africa, those who come from a number of other areas where it is very difficult to get a visa," said Sheila Jackson Lee, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members are all Democrats.
Representative Charles Schumer said the system that would replace the program in 2017 is merit-based and will also give Africans a chance.
The diversity visas would vanish starting next year under the reform being negotiated.
Only four percent of African immigrants received a green card for employment reasons in 2012, compared to 21% of Asians and 22% of Europeans.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People claims the number of African immigrants would decrease even with the merit-based system.
"In essence, we're concerned," said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP Washington bureau director.
Dame Babou, who hosts a radio show that caters to Senegalese people in New York, said the end of the program was disheartening for Africans.
"Every year many people thought this was going to be their year," Babou said. "Again, what is being eliminated is hope."
Half of the 50,000 residence permits handed out at random each year are earmarked for Africans.