Permanent Residency Through the Diversity Visa Lottery

Every fiscal year, the Department of State provides a maximum of 50,000 Diversity Visas for people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Many times, this is referred to as the "Green Card Lottery". The purpose of the diversity visa lottery is to encourage people of varying nationalities to immigrate to the United States thus continually create a more diverse population. The program is run under the terms of Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

People wishing to participate in the program must meet strict eligibility guidelines, but the process is not complicated. A computer-generated random lottery drawing chooses the names of applicants to receive the visas. No single country may receive more than seven percent of the available Diversity Visas in a given year.

Ineligible Countries

No visas can go to applicants from countries which have sent more than 50,000 immigrants in the past five years. The list of countries does change as Russia had been ineligible but as of 2010, natives of Russia were again allowed to apply. For 2010, the following countries are not eligible because the countries sent more than 50,000 immigrants in the past five years:

  • BRAZIL
  • CANADA
  • CHINA (mainland-born)
  • COLOMBIA
  • DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
  • ECUADOR
  • EL SALVADOR
  • GUATEMALA
  • HAITI
  • INDIA
  • JAMAICA
  • MEXICO
  • PAKISTAN
  • PHILIPPINES
  • PERU
  • POLAND
  • SOUTH KOREA
  • UNITED KINGDOM
  • VIETNAM

Applying for A Diversity Based Green Card

Starting in 2005, the Department of State implemented an electronic registration system which makes the Diversity Lottery Visa process more efficient and more secure. Each person may have only one application submitted for the diversity lottery. Anyone who submits more than one application will be removed from the lottery system and the computer applications make that process much easier to facilitate.

There is a small window of time in which to apply. Each year, the Department of State makes the application available online from early October through December. The time frame is the same each year but the exact dates and times (yes, there is a specific start and end time) can change from year to year and if you are interested in applying for a Diversity Lottery Visa, you should check with the website http://www.travel.state.gov . You cannot submit an application after the time limit is up because the computer application system is no longer available after the designated end time.

Diversity Visa Requirements

There are two basic requirements applicants must meet in order to apply for a Diversity Lottery Visa

  1. You must be a native of a country on the list of eligible countries. If you are not, you could alternatively be the spouse of someone born in a country on the list of eligible countries and you are both on the selected entry and enter the United States at the same time. If you were born in an ineligible country, but neither of your parents were born in an ineligible country or resided there at the time of your birth, you may claim nativity in one of your parents’ country of birth if it is an eligible country.
  2. You must meet education or work experience requirements. You must have either a high school diploma or its equivalent. Alternatively, if you cannot meet that requirement, you have to have two years of work experience in the past five years in an occupation which required at least two years of training or experience to perform.

If you have applied for an immigrant visa number through another category such as through family members or employment, you can still apply for a diversity lottery number while you are waiting for your number to come up in the other category. The diversity lottery can be the fastest way for an alien to get permanent resident status, but it really is only for the lucky!

When You Win!

Winners of the diversity lottery are sent a letter in the mail informing them of their immigrant visa numbers. Losers of the diversity lottery are NOT contacted. Once you win the diversity lottery, you must act quickly. The USCIS announces more than 50,000 visa winners so you have to follow up with your application and get your interview scheduled as soon as possible because you have to complete the process by September 30th of the next year. If you do not complete the process in time, your application will be denied.

If you win the diversity lottery, it makes sense to contact an immigration attorney as soon as possible to help you get through the process quickly and on time.

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