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