Understanding How the Diversity Visa Lottery Works

The winners of the Diversity Visa lottery are chosen at random by a computer program, with a certain number of visas allocated to each region of the world and no one country receiving more than 7% of the Diversity Visas available in any given year.

Understanding How the Diversity Visa Lottery Works

A Guide to Diversity Visa Lottery: For many immigrants, getting to the point of gaining permanent residence in their newly adopted country is a key milestone. As the final step before the ultimate goal of citizenship, holding permanent residence removes a great deal of uncertainty about the future and your safety and security.

A green card also known as a permanent residence card is issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It lets you live and work in the US permanently.

The Diversity Visa Lottery Program is one of the multiple ways for non-citizens to become US permanent residents. Although there are several avenues to getting a green card, including through family, employment, or status as a refugee or asylee, not everyone qualifies.

The DV program is a free lottery that people from countries around the world can enter, for a chance to apply for green cards. Winners of the diversity visa lottery don't need to have family or employment relationships with US citizens or lawful permanent residents to apply for their green cards. Moreover, winning the green card lottery can be as wonderful as that sounds. But it can also turn out to be dashed hopes.

This article summarizes everything you need to about the Diversity Visa Program and explains who can apply for the program as well as the timeline, cost, and how to apply for the green card lottery.

What is the Diversity Visa Lottery?

The Diversity Visa (DV) Program is otherwise known as the Green Card Lottery. It is a United States government lottery program for receiving the United States Permanent Resident Card. The Immigration Act of 1990 established the current and permanent Diversity Visa (DV) program.

The lottery is administered by the Department of State and conducted under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Each year, the Diversity Visa program allows 50,000 randomly selected people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States to obtain permanent residency (commonly called a “green card”).

When you apply, you have a random chance of being selected to get a US Green Card. So it is like a lottery. It’s a way for individuals and families who otherwise wouldn’t have any way to legally immigrate to the United States to get a green card. The DV Program is a way to increase the diversity of the immigrants coming to live in the United States. It aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States. This is by selecting applicants from countries with low numbers of immigrants in the previous five years.

How does it work?

The green card lottery allows people from countries that have not immigrated too much to the US to apply for it. Entering the Diversity Visa lottery involves filling out a simple form online, and it doesn’t cost anything. Although many deceptive agencies will charge fees to applicants or falsely claim to increase their winning chances. The only way to apply for the lottery is to complete the entry form on the Department of State website, free of charge.

Only applicants selected in the lottery must pay a fee to continue the process. You can enter the lottery every year from early October through early November. The winners are selected at random by a computer, and they and their immediate families receive green cards.

The program is not specific to one continent or country, rather, all six geographic regions can apply. However, the number of DV visas is limited and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decides how many visas will be given each year. Regardless of how many visas are given. The USCIS cannot give more than 7% of these visas to one specific country but must distribute them equally.

Winners of the DV visa will be allowed to move permanently to the US. If you are given the visa, you are considered a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) of the US. You can then live in any of the states, find a job, get a driver’s license, and get married or have children in the United States. After a certain period, you can also apply for US citizenship.

Diversity Visa Cost and Timeline

Just like we said earlier, there's no fee to enter the DV lottery. However, only applicants selected in the lottery must pay a fee to continue the process. You will need to pay the mandatory green card application fees. If you get selected, you will receive information and details of the required fees on the Diversity Visa website at dvprogram.state.gov.

Generally, the winners of the green card lottery are notified 7 months after submitting their entry. Depending on how soon you apply for your visa, it can take up to 14 months to be scheduled for your visa interview and receive your visa. Moreover, as soon as get your visa, you must enter the US on or before the expiration date printed on your visa.

Who is Eligible for Diversity Visa Lottery?

Furthermore, before registering for the green card lottery, you should first determine if you are eligible. There are two main requirements when applying for a Diversity Visa:

1. Country of Birth

To enter the lottery, applicants must have been born in an eligible country. Diversity visas go to natives of selected countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States in six geographic regions. Eligible countries are those that have sent less than 50,000 immigrants to the United States over the past 5 years.

Moreover, the list of countries is subject to change each year and appears on the Diversity Visa entry instructions. However, Canada, China, India, Mexico, and the United Kingdom never make the list, because these countries all send a large number of immigrants to the United States. The State Department provides a list of all eligible countries.

Furthermore, there are two exceptions to this eligibility criteria. That is to say, you can still enter the lottery if your country is not eligible as long as you meet one of the following birth country eligibility requirements:

  • If neither of your parents were legal residents in your own country of birth and were born in an eligible country. You can choose your mother or father’s country of birth.
  • If your spouse, who you are applying with, was born in an eligible country. You can apply with your spouse and choose your spouse’s birth country on your application instead of yours.

2. Education or work experience

In addition to eligibility based on country of birth, the second major requirement for Diversity Visa applicants is that you must have at least a high school degree, or at least two years of work experience within the past five years in a profession that requires at least two years of training, as determined by the US Department of Labor. Moreover, they must also satisfy general requirements applicable to all immigrants. Mainly related to health, criminal background, and means of support.

How to Apply for the Diversity Visa Lottery

Once you find out that you're eligible for the Diversity Visa Program (DV Program), you can proceed with applying. The online registration period for the DV Program typically runs at the end of each fiscal year, between early October and November each year. However, you should register as early as possible once it opens. You could miss out due to heavy website traffic if you wait until the end of the sign-up period. Moreover, late entries will not be accepted. Here's an overview of how to enter the green card lottery:

Enter the lottery

Firstly, you will have to enter the DV lottery. Participating in the lottery is rather easy. You fill out a form on the State Department’s website while it is available, from early October through early November just as we mentioned above. The registration is done online. Moreover, your application must be done in English, however, there are also detailed instructions available in a variety of languages.

Although most of the questions are easy to understand, you must read the instructions carefully, noting all required documentation such as your passport number, and photos which you will have to follow the same photo requirements as for a green card application, etc. Moreover, after submitting your application, it is important to keep your confirmation number as it will be the only way to know if you have been selected.

Selection and notification

The State Department selects DV lottery winners at random. The winners of the Diversity Visa lottery are chosen at random by a computer program. Which will allocate a certain number of visas to each region of the world. However, the State Department ensures that each country receives no more than 7% of the Diversity Visa available in any given year.

Meanwhile, you can check your status in early May of the following year after you submitted your Diversity Visa application. Although, the exact dates do vary. You can view any updates by using the Entrant Status Check link on the Diversity Visa webpage. You need to use your confirmation number to check your status. This is why it’s so important to save that confirmation number. Without it, you won’t be able to see if you’ve been selected or not.

Apply for the green card

When you’re notified that you won the Diversity Visa, you’ll get a numerical rank, which will tell you when you can apply for your visa. There are usually more people selected in the DV lottery than available visas. Therefore, if you’re selected in the green card lottery, it’s important to act fast, even though it could still be a year or more before you’re able to come to the United States.

However, the final step is to apply for and obtain your green. Towards the end of July, you can check the State Department’s visa bulletin to see when you can submit your application. Visas are available beginning October 1. Visa applicants can submit their applications up to 90 days in advance.

Moreover, the majority of the lottery winners live outside of the United States. In such cases, winners will apply for a green card through the US consulate in their home country. Once visas are available, you should submit form DS-260 with the National Visa Center. Once your application is processed, the National Visa Center will send your application to your US consulate. Which will then schedule a visa interview. You will be approved for your immigrant visa at the interview if you meet all the requirements,

However, if you are in the United States with non-immigrant status. You should apply for a green card with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by filing Form I-485 (the Application for Adjustment of Status). To do so, fill out Form I-485.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of scammers out there ready to take your money in exchange for useless or even harmful information. The Diversity Visa program is sometimes abused by scammers as a way to defraud hopeful immigrants. However, keep in mind that entering the green card lottery is free. Anyone claiming to collect a fee on the Department of State’s behalf is scamming aspiring immigrants.

Moreover, you can only find out if have won by going to dvprogram.state.gov. In other words, the Department of State does not notify winners either by mail or by email.

In conclusion, applying for a green card can be complicated, but consulting a good immigration lawyer can make it easier. Finally, keep in mind that the Diversity Visa lottery is just like any other lottery; the odds of winning are usually low, but if you’re lucky.