If you registered for and your name was drawn in the U.S. visa lottery (DV), you must act fast to apply for a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence).
Below are the steps to take first. And you'll need to act quickly, for the reasons described next.
In the annual diversity visa (DV) lottery, the U.S. government actually selects more winners than the number of available visas. It assumes some of these winners will either not meet all the green card requirements or will decide not to immigrate after all. Well over ten million people typically register for the lottery, and around 100,000 are typically selected as supposed winners, despite the fact that only 50,000 green cards are actually available.
If more winners than there are visas available to grant them actually submit applications, the green cards (immigrant visas) are given on a first-come, first-served basis. Thus it's possible that, even though you win the lottery, the year's green card allotment will be used up before your own interview is scheduled, and you will not receive a green card.
If you have any children who will turn 21 soon, you have yet another reason to want the process to go quickly. A child who turns 21 technically loses eligibility for the diversity visa. Fortunately, children have some protection under a law called the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA). This law allows you to subtract from the child's actual age the number of days that went by between the first day people were allowed to register for the lottery that year and the date your registration was selected.
Your registration will become void on September 30, which is the end of the government fiscal year. For example, if you registered for the visa lottery that begins in 2023 ("DV-2025"), your visa can be issued only beginning in October 1, 2024 and must be issued before September 30, 2025. You cannot apply after that (unless you registered for and were selected in a subsequent visa lottery).
First, in order to be selected, you would need to have registered for the green card lottery on the State Department (DOS)'s website. Only people from certain countries can apply, based on low immigration levels in previous years.
The registration period usually occurs in October or November, and at least a year prior to each year's lottery-based visa approvals. For example, people who register in 2023 are eligible for selection in the 2024-2025 DV lottery, referred to as DV-2025.
The DOS usually begins posting selectee numbers in May for visas that will become available the following October. You'll need to find out your confirmation number, which the Department of State (DOS) gave you when your registration was completed. Next, to see whether your confirmation number was selected, check the Department of State's E-DV website. The DOS does not send out letters to people who've been selected, so it's important to check the website often.
If you're selected, the next big question is, where should you file your green card application:
If you're living in a country outside the United States, you'll apply for your green card at a local U.S. embassy or consulate and attend your visa interview in your home country before entering the United States. This method is called consular processing.
You will need to fill out the main form, which is electronic immigrant visa application on Form DS-260, for yourself and everyone in your family who is applying for a green card.
After your application has been received and processed, you will receive instructions from the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC). These will explain how to send scanned copies of required supporting documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and results of police records checks. The sooner you can gather these, the sooner your interview can be scheduled.
Once KCC has reviewed all your documents, it will send you a date and time for your scheduled interview, through the E-DV portal. You will also receive instructions on what to bring to the visa interview and how to schedule your medical exam.
At the consular interview, you will pay the visa application fees. The U.S. consular officer will interview you, review your file, and determine whether you are eligible for the diversity immigrant visa.
You should attend the consular interview even if you are missing documents, as there might not be more interviews available before the September 30 deadline. The visa must be issued by September 30 following your interview. If you are missing documents, the officer will give you an opportunity to obtain them, but you must still get them turned in quickly, before all 50,000 of the year's available visas are issued.
The visa must actually be printed by September 30, and it cannot be printed until your file is complete. Your visa will usually be valid for six months and you must travel to the U.S. before it expires.
The fees for your DV must be paid at the embassy or consulate prior to your interview.
Before you do this, double check that you are still eligible for a DV, because the visa application fees are high and will not be refunded if you do not qualify. Start by checking the FAQ section of the DV instructions page.
Primarily, applicants must meet the educational requirements of the visa and must not have criminal convictions that result in ineligibility. If unsure about whether you meet the minimum qualifications, an experienced U.S. immigration attorney can advise you.
One of the main reasons applicants fail to qualify is because of errors in their DV registration that result in automatic disqualification at the visa interview.
For example, DV applicants often reuse the same information to register, year after year, and forget to add new family members to the application. If your DV application did not include your spouse and all the children, under 21, born to you and your spouse at the time of registration, your visa will be denied. This even includes children you do not plan to take with you to the United States, such as your children from a former marriage, or step-children.
If you were married or had children born after you registered, however, these family members can be added to your application.
They will all need valid passports by the time of your consular interview.
If you are living in the U.S. now, you can either attend your interview overseas or possibly adjust your status in the U.S. and get your green card without leaving—in other words, send your application to a USCIS Service Center and attend your interview at a local USCIS office. If you are in the U.S. on a student visa or work visa, this could be a more convenient option, but the filing fees can be more expensive and the wait times could be longer.
There are limitations on who can adjust status, however. You are allowed to use this procedure only if you're already in the U.S. legally, that is, on a valid, unexpired visa or other form of permission (with a few exceptions). If, however, you're living in the United States with no legal status, or have worked without authorization, or you entered legally without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you are barred from filing your green card application inside the U.S., unless you fall under one of a few narrow exceptions. (Talk to an attorney for details.)
If you adjust status in the United States, you will still submit your applications electronically, as discussed above, but you will have the additional step of filing adjustment of status paperwork. Also, there can be long waits for adjustment of status interviews, depending on how backed up your local USCIS office is. (Check the USCIS processing times for Form I-485 to research this.) Long delays could mean you'd miss out on your chance for a green card.
If you are considering adjusting status, an attorney could advise you as to whether this is a good idea, based on your circumstances and current wait times.
Regardless of which way you choose to apply, it is important that you do what is necessary to meet all documentary requirements as soon as you find out you have been selected, if not sooner.
If you are registered for the DV lottery, you might receive emails or letters from scammers telling you to "Act Quickly to Claim Your Green Card," or something similar. If you have any doubts about the source of an email or other communication, check the status of your entry at the Department of State's E-DV website.
The Department of State no longer sends notification letters to selectees. Furthermore, any legitimate online correspondence regarding your registration will come from a ".gov" Internet address, and will never ask you to send cash, money orders, or wire transfers.