Getting Permanent Residency Through The Diversity Visa Lottery

An introduction to the eligibility and application requirements for the green card lottery.

The Diversity Visa is a federal program used to allot eligibility for United States permanent residence (green cards) to randomly selected winners. It is also known as the Green Card Lottery.

Be aware of scams. The diversity visa lottery is free. Never pay anyone offering to help you get a green card through this program. See Green Card Lottery Scams & Fraudulent Websites.

Who Is Eligible?

The lottery is administered annually by the U.S. Department of State and conducted under Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.).  The Act makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The State Department publishes the eligible country list each year along with instructions for how to enter (which must be done online).

To check for the latest eligible-country list and instructions, go to the "Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Program" page of the U.S State Department website. This information is usually published in the fall. You'll be given a period of weeks, often from a date in October through a date in December, within which to submit your registration.

Pros and Cons of Registering for the DV Lottery

Here are some of the benefits to applying for the visa lottery, as well as some cautionary notes:

  • Entry requirements are minimal. You must come from one of the qualifying countries, have a high school diploma or two years' equivalent work experience, complete the application correctly, and ultimately show that you're not inadmissible to the U.S. (for example, that you haven't committed any crimes, contracted any communicable diseases of public health significance, or appear likely to need government financial assistance to support yourself in the U.S.).
  • If you win, your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may also get green cards, as your accompanying relatives.
  • Winning the DV lottery doesn't guarantee you a green card. Not only must you show that you're not inadmissible, but you must get through the application process before the visas run out toward the end of the fiscal year.
  • If you're in the U.S. illegally, or entered on the Visa Waiver Program or have worked without authorization, you're not eligible to adjust status (submit all your paperwork and be interviewed in the U.S.) You'll have to go to a U.S. consulate overseas -- where you can be punished with a bar on reentry for time you've spent unlawfully in the United States.  

Registration Process

The rules for registering for the lottery change a bit every year. However, the usual process is to fill out and submit and your registration online, and attach digital photos. There is no fee for registering (though if you win, there will be fees charged for the green card/immigrant visa application). Beware of scammers who attempt to charge you large sums of money to complete your paperwork for you. They have no special secrets or power to put your application at the front of the line.

Make sure to answer every question on the form, and enter only once per person, or your entry will be disqualified. (Husbands and wives can, however, each submit a separate application, and then bring the other person in with them.)

You won't be notified if you win (or don't win). You'll have to check on your own, by going to the State Department's "Visa Entrant Status Check" page.

If You Win

If you're lucky enough to be selected for a DV visa, seek legal help immediately. The lawyer can help you make sure that your application for an immigrant visa or green card is prepared accurately and put into the system in time to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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