The Green Card Lottery, or the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program”, is a United States immigration program that grants approximately 50,000 green cards each year to applicants from selected countries.  The applicants are randomly selected by a computer-generated drawing. 

An applicant who is selected under the Visa Lottery Program is given a chance to apply for permanent resident status in the U.S.  “Permanent resident” status allows the foreign national to live and work permanently in the U.S.  In addition, permanent residents can bring their spouse, as well as any unmarried children who are younger than 21 years of age to the U.S. 

It is a common misconception that a Green Card Lottery “winner” is automatically given a permanent visa or green card.  This is not true- the winner is basically given the opportunity to apply for a green card- they still must satisfy all of the requirements for permanent residence.  

Who Can apply for the Green Card Lottery?

Only eligible candidates from selected countries can participate and apply for the Green Card Lottery.  Candidates are usually selected from countries that have registered lower rates of immigration to the U.S. 

In general, persons applying from countries that have sent over 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the past 5 years cannot apply.  Thus, the list of participating countries may change each year.  If you are unsure if your country has been approved for participation in the Green Card Lottery Program, you may wish to ask a lawyer for advice.

In addition, if the applicant is coming from an approved country, they must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • The applicant must hold at least a high school diploma, or its equivalent as defined in the U.S., OR
  • The applicant must have at least 2 years of work experience, within the past 5 years, in an occupation that requires a minimum of 2 years of experience or training to perform

Also, in some cases, a person may be eligible for the lottery if their parent was born in a country that has been selected for participation.

Again, these eligibility requirements only apply to the application phase for the Green Card Lottery.  If selected, the winner will need to complete the application process for a permanent visa, which has its own set of requirements. 

How Can I Apply for the Green Card Lottery?

Every year the U.S. Department of State (DOS) publishes the list of countries that have been selected for participation in that year’s green card lottery.  The DOS also operates the online registration period, which usually runs from October until December of each year.

You can apply with the DOS during this time period.  There is no application fee for the Lottery program; however, if you are selected you will be required to pay the filing fees for the permanent resident card application.

How Do I Know if I Won?

Candidates who are selected as winners will be notified through mail at the addresses provided in their applications.  If you do not receive any notifications, it can generally be assumed that you were not selected. 

On the other hand, the number of applicants for the lottery is usually greater than the number of visas that are available.  This is because not all winners will satisfy the green card requirements.  Thus, the lottery ends when all 50,000 visas have been successfully issued.

Do I Need a Lawyer for the Green Card Lottery?

It is important that your application follow all the requirements- even the slightest errors on your application can disqualify you.  If you are considering applying for the green card lottery, you may wish to hire an immigration lawyer for advice.  Your lawyer can help you determine whether your home country is eligible for the program, and whether you meet all the entry requirements.  Also, you can retain the services of your lawyer if you are selected, so they can help you with the following visa application.