President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed legislation to end a visa programme known as the green card lottery that has enabled more than 17,000 Kenyans to gain residency in the US in recent years.
Africans have been leading beneficiaries of the 27-year-old Diversity Immigrant Programme, as the lottery is officially known.
A total of 22,703 sub-Saharan Africans were among the 52,342 visa lottery winners in 2014 — the latest year for which State Department statistics are available. Kenyans accounted for 1,216 of the winning entries that year.
Mr Trump joined two Republican senators on Wednesday in unveiling a proposal to establish a “merit-based” US system that would award visas on the basis of applicants’ job skills.
The White House said the legislation would eliminate “the outdated Diversity Visa Lottery System, which serves questionable economic and humanitarian interests.”
In addition to terminating the lottery, the legislation would sharply limit other means of obtaining permanent residency status in the US.
The total number of green cards issued annually would drop from more than 1 million to about 500,000 under the shift favoured by Mr Trump.
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Senator Tom Cotton, one of the bill’s two lead sponsors, said on Wednesday that while some may view the current US immigration policy as a “symbol of America’s virtue and generosity,” he views it as “a symbol we’re not committed to working-class Americans, and we need to change that.”
Mr Trump had argued during the presidential campaign that too many immigrants are gaining entry to the US and are taking jobs from citizens.
Sponsors of the bill to overhaul the US visa system have entitled it the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE).