If your name has been drawn in the visa lottery (DV), you must act fast to apply for a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence). Here are the steps to take first.
If you haven't yet registered, see this page on applying for the green card lottery. The registration period usually occurs at least a year prior to each year’s lottery. For example, people who register in 2020 are eligible for selection in the 2021-2022 DV lottery. The DOS usually begins posting selectee numbers in May for visas that will be 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 selectees, so it's important to check the website often.
If selected, the next big question is, where should you file your green card application: at a USCIS office in the United States or at a U.S. consulate outside of the United States?
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 electronic immigrant visa application, Form DS-260, for 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) for sending scanned copies of supporting documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and 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 interview and how to schedule your medical exam.
At the consular interview, you will pay the visa application fees. The consular officer will interview you, review your file, and determine whether you are eligible for the visa.
You should attend the 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 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, 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, 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. This means you could 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. For more information, see Act Quickly on Diversity Visa Lottery Win or Lose the Chance for a Green Card.