The Diversity Visa Program (DV Program) is one of the multiple ways for non-citizens to become U.S. permanent residents. The program is a free lottery that people from countries around the world can enter, for a chance to apply for green cards and live and work legally in the United States. Winners of the lottery don't need to have family or employment relationships with U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to apply for their green cards. This article discusses the history of the diversity visa lottery and explains who can apply for it as well as the application process.
What is the history of the diversity visa lottery?
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program) began after the Immigration Act of 1990. Historically, trends have been that most immigrants have come from a similar group of countries. So, Congress started the DV Program to diversify immigrant demographics in America.
Now, the U.S. Department of State conducts random lottery programs. Immigrants from underrepresented countries can register for DV lotteries at the end of the fiscal year. More than 95 percent of DV lottery winners go on to successfully obtain a green card. Most of these immigrants lived outside of the United States at the time they won their lotteries.
Every year, the DV Program helps 50,000 randomly selected immigrants obtain permanent residence in the United States. Right now, there are various reform bills in Congress that may threaten the future of the program. But, for now, the State Department continues to run the program.
Who is eligible for the diversity visa lottery?
To qualify for the Diversity Visa Program (DV Program), you must have been born in an eligible country. Eligible countries are those that have sent less than 50,000 immigrants to America in the past five years. If your country of birth is not eligible for the lottery, you can still enter if you meet one of the following birth country eligibility requirements:
- Your spouse, who you are applying with, was born in an eligible country. You can select their country of birth on the application instead of yours.
- Your parents were born in an eligible country and neither of them was a legal resident in your own country of birth.
Immigrants from countries like China, Mexico, India, the United Kingdom, and Canada usually can’t meet the country eligibility requirements on their own because the United States already receives plenty of applications from these regions. The eligible countries change from year to year. But, in 2021, the top DV lottery countries were Egypt, Sudan, Russia, Algeria, Uzbekistan, Iran, Ukraine, Morocco, Nepal, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
If you do meet at least one of the country of birth or spousal/parental country of birth requirements, you’ll also need to meet one of the following educational requirements to be selected:
- You must have at least a high school education.
- You must have at least two years of work experience within the last five years. These jobs must have required a minimum of two years of training. You can check the U.S. Department of Labor’s website for more information on meeting these requirements.
If selected in the green card lottery, you’ll need to meet the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) green card eligibility requirements as well. If you have a criminal record, you may not be eligible for a green card. USCIS may also disqualify you if you don’t meet specific medical vaccination requirements.
It’s possible to apply for the DV Program if you’re married to someone with U.S. Citizenship. But, it’s usually faster to apply for a marriage-based green card instead.
If you have another family member willing and eligible to sponsor your green card application, you may still want to consider registering for the DV lottery. Processing times can depend on which family-based immigration category you applied under. Applications sponsored by spouses are processed much faster than those sponsored by siblings, for example. If you win the DV lottery, you’ll be able to immigrate and apply for a green card faster than if you applied through a sibling family-based immigration category.
How to apply for the diversity visa lottery
If you’re eligible for the Diversity Visa Program (DV Program), you can proceed with applying. The DV Program registration period is at the end of each fiscal year. If selected, you’ll then be able to begin the green card application process.
Step 1 - Enter the lottery
First, you’ll have to enter the DV lottery. You’ll need to fill out an online form on the U.S. Department of State’s website. You can usually fill out this form between early October and early November each year.
The form will ask for your “country of birth” and your “country of eligibility.” Note that your answers to these two questions may differ depending on your circumstances. If your country of birth has changed its name, you should write the country’s current name. If you qualify for the DV program based on your spouse or parents’ countries of birth, make sure to indicate the correct country of eligibility on your form.
The form will also ask you to list your spouse and your children. If you have any children, you must list all of your biological children, adopted children, and step-children under the age of 21. You must list your step-children even if you are no longer married to their parents.
Be sure to keep a copy of your confirmation number after submitting your application. You’ll need this number to know whether you’re eventually selected.
Step 2 - Get selected and notified
The State Department selects DV lottery winners at random. They use computer programs to allocate a specific amount of visas to each world region. Each year, the State Department ensures that each country receives no more than 7 percent of any available Diversity Visas.
You can typically check your status in early May, the year after you submitted your Diversity Visa application. You can use the DV Program’s Entrant Status Check page to view any updates. You need to use your confirmation number to check your status.
If you win the DV lottery, the State Department will send you a numerical rank letting you know when you may finally apply for a visa. You should act fast because there are more people selected in the DV lottery than available visas.
Step 3 - Apply for the green card
The final step is to apply for and obtain your green card. In late July, you’ll be able to review the U.S. visa bulletin. The visa bulletin will let you know when you can submit your application. Visas are available beginning October 1. Visa applicants can submit their applications up to 90 days in advance.
Most DV lottery winners live outside of the United States. If this is the case for you, you’ll need to apply for your green card through a local U.S. consulate in your country. Once visas are available, you must submit Form DS-260 to the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). CEAC will send your application to your U.S. consulate. You’ll soon have to attend a visa interview. Your consulate will likely approve your application if you meet the eligibility guidelines.
Some DV lottery winners live in the United States. In this case, you should apply for a green card with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To do so, fill out Form I-485 (the Application for Adjustment of Status). For further guidance, check out our article on how to complete Form I-485.
If all goes well, you will eventually receive a visa issuance. Soon, you’ll be able to live in the United States with green card status!
Applying for a green card can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!