Immigration plan could aid migration from unstable regions, including Chechnya

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Senate’s pending immigration bill would give an advantage to people seeking to immigrate from Kyrgyzstan, the former Soviet republic that provided passports to the two ethnic Chechens who allegedly bombed Boston.

As part of a compromise that would replace the current “Diversity Lottery” program, countries with low rates of immigration to the United Sates — including Kyrgyzstan and Russia — would be awarded five points.

The five-point bonus could have a significant influence on who gets to live among 310 million Americans, because only the top-scoring applicants in the bill’s new merit-based immigration system would be granted green cards.

This system would give a person with a Kyrgyzstan passport an advantage over otherwise equally qualified people from countries like Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada and Brazil. Those countries do not qualify for the bonus because they send large numbers of people to the United States.

The same bonus is also offered to people from a series of unstable countries that are not covered by the Diversity Lottery, a State Dept. program that annually offers 55,000 green cards to people in countries that send few immigrants to the United States.

Those countries include Egypt, Libya, Somalia and Tunisia, as well as countries alongside the war-wrecked Chechen homeland in the Caucasus mountains.

Russia is also on the 2012 Diversity Lottery list. People from Chechnya hold Russian passports, and — if the bill is not amended and becomes law — may be entitled to the five-point bonus.

The immigration bill’s five-point bonus is also quite large. It is equal to the bonus given to people who have earned bachelors’ degrees in science, math or any other topic.

A spokesman for Marco Rubio, the Republican senator most associated with the immigration bill, did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

The issue is politically significant because the bomb blasts have suddenly refocused the immigration debate around national security in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in Boston.

The bonus system is buried in one of several new immigration channels created by the bill. However, the section explaining the bonus-point system is relatively straightforward.

The bill says 120,000 immigrants with the most bonus points will be initially admitted every year, starting five years after enactment. The number will gradually rise to 250,000 immigrants with the most number of bonus points every year, unless unemployment rates stay above 8.5 percent, according to the bill.

The bill splits the annual merit inflow into two roughly equal tracks. A potential immigrant must choose whether he or she will apply for a green card on either track one or track two.

One track provides bonus points towards skilled immigrants, while the second track offers extra points for people with some connection to the United States.

Track one provides 15 points to a person with a doctorate, 10 points for an applicant who has a job offer in a high-skill field, and 10 points for people who create a company that employs at least two people.

Track two provides 10 points to a person who has been a caregiver at some point, 10 points for a person offered a no-skill or low-skill job in the United States, and up to two points for every year a potential immigrant has worked in the United States.

It also provides up to 10 points to people who persuade the Department of Homeland Security that they have an “exceptional” employment record.

Both tracks offer 10 points to people who can speak English, two points to people who participate in civic activities that are approved by the secretary of homeland defense, and 10 points to people who have siblings in the United States.

People in both tracks also get 10 points if they’re trying to work in a “high demand” occupation, which are sectors where employers say they can’t get enough workers at offered wages.

Both tracks also offer five points to people from countries that have sent relatively small numbers of people to the United States.

The relevant paragraph says “COUNTRY OF ORIGIN.—An alien who is a national of a country of which fewer than 50,000 nationals were lawfully admitted to permanent residence in the United States in the previous 5 years shall be allocated 5 points.”

Kyrgyzstan has a very low rate of immigration to the United States, which ensures that immigrants from the country would be entitled to that five-point bonus.

Under current law, the Diversity Lottery annually awards 55,000 green cards to people from low-immigration countries, including Kyrgyzstan. 

The lottery is very controversial among Republicans, but is widely supported among progressives.

To help win GOP support for the immigration bill, the eight Senate authors offered to kill the diversity lottery. In compensation, the Senators also added the five-point country bonus to the merit visa program.

That tactical two-step created a new political risk once the Chechens detonated their bombs in Boston.

In 2012, 312 people with Kyrgyzstan passports were offered green cards under the diversity lottery, according to the Department of State. The green cards are only given “to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States,” according to the Department of State.

From 2009 to 2011, a total of 570 Kyrgyz passport-holders won green cards via the lottery.

There are several other existing channel of immigration that can boost the number of immigrants from each country. For example, the parents of the Boston bombers sought and won green cards via the asylum process.

However, Kyrgyzstan would have been excluded from the 2012 lottery if the inflow had risen above the “low rate” required by the Department of State.

So few people immigrate to the United States from Kyrgyzstan that the U.S. embassy in the country does not process immigration requests.

“The U.S. Embassy Bishkek issues only non-immigrant visas (NIVs) to those who would like to visit the United States for pleasure, business, or study. Those who would like to immigrate to the U.S. must contact the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan,” according to the embassy’s website.

Kyrgyzstan is one of several nations near the Chechens’ homeland that were created following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Armenia and Uzbekistan. All were included in the 2012 lottery. Of those countries, only Armenians and Uzbeks won more than 1,000 lottery green cards per year.

Russia was also included in the lottery, and its passport holders won 2,353 green cards to the United States. Chechens living in Chechnya hold Russian passports, as do other ethnic groups living alongside the Chechens within Russian territory.

These Russian ethnic groups live in Ossetia, Ingushetia and Dagestan, where the two Boston bombers lived the first few years of their lives.

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