The Visa Lottery is a program for immigrants to obtain permanent visas (also referred to as green cards) into the United States. This program is officially called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program and can also be referred to as the green card lottery. If a person receives a diversity visa, they will be granted permanent residency in the country.

Eligibility and the process for applying for a diversity immigrant visa can vary each year, so it is important to check the U.S. Department of State website to ensure the process is completed correctly. Generally, around 50,000 of these visas are given out per year under the lottery. Selection of who receives these visas is random from a computer program.

What Countries Are Eligible Under the Visa Lottery?

In order to successfully apply for a diversity immigrant visa, you must be a citizen born from a qualifying country and meet specific occupational and educational requirements. This is one thing that can change from year to year, as different countries will be on the list. The determination is based on low immigration rates.

Specifically, this will include countries that sent the fewest number of immigrants over to the U.S. during the five year period prior to the year you apply. The U.S. Department of State releases this list of eligible countries each year, so that is where potential applicants need to check before submitting an application.

What are Other Eligibility Requirements for the Visa Lottery?

Besides being born in an eligible country for the application year, you need to meet other requirements in order to apply for a diversity visa. One of the following boxes need to be checked in order to apply:

  1. Have a high school education or whatever an equivalent is to a high school degree; or
  2. Two years or more job experience over the last five years in a qualifying field. Check the U.S. Department of State website to determine what jobs qualify, as this can change as well.

Another important thing to know about the country eligibility requirement is that there are exceptions if you were not born in the qualified country. If your spouse was born in an eligible country and you both are issued a diversity visa the same year then you can surpass this requirement. Another exception is where one parent is born in a qualifying country and neither parents were residents of your birth country, which was different, when you were born in that country.

Lastly, when you apply if you are considered inadmissible to the United States then you cannot get a visa even if you meet all eligibility requirements. Reasons for inadmissibility include convictions for certain violent crimes, drug offenses, and particular illness afflictions.

What are the Steps for the Application Process to the Visa Lottery?

The application process for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program includes the following steps:

  1. Submit an entry. This needs to be done electronically and instructions can be found on the U.S. Department of State website. Some required information is the legal name reflected on your passport, country of eligibility, contact information, marital status, number of children, and the highest level of education that you completed. You will need to include a digital photo and passport number as well. Late entries are never allowed for this lottery so if you miss the application window then you will need to wait until the following year in order to successfully apply.
  2. Applicants are selected and notified. As noted above, the selection process is random. In order to see if you are selected online you will need to enter your application confirmation number so it is important not to lose this. You will also get official notification sent to your application address.
  3. Take additional steps if you are selected. Understand that being selected does not guarantee you a visa, as your eligibility will be reviewed and you will need to make it through the interview process.
  4. Confirm your qualifications. This includes providing proof that you meet all the pertinent requirements. These requirements are your country or birth, education, and job experience.
  5. Submit your immigrant visa and alien registration application. This is an official application asking for a visa referred to as Form DS-260. You will also need to pay any fees required at this time.
  6. Submit supporting documents. After your visa and alien registration application are reviewed, you will get a request for other documentation. This could include your birth certificate, court and prison records, military records, police certificates, and copy of your passport. If you cannot provide a requested document then you will need to provide an acceptable written explanation as to why you cannot satisfy the request.
  7. Receive interview date. This will take place in a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Make sure you know where to go and plan to arrive early so you do not miss the interview.
  8. Prepare for your interview. If further instructions are provided with your interview assignment, complete these in a timely fashion. You will also need to have a medical examination and any required vaccinations completed before the interview. You will need to bring photographs and documentation to show an appointment was scheduled, DS-260 confirmation, passports, and any other documentation submitted during this process. You will also be required to pay the $330 diversity visa fee.
  9. Complete your interview. This is when the determination will be made as to whether you get a visa. Spouses and unmarried children need to accompany you to the interview unless they will immigrate at a later date. Also ensure you have the required documents at the interview, which can be found on the U.S. Department of State website.
  10. Receive visa approval or denial. This step will actually happen at the interview after it concludes. If approved, you can take the appropriate steps to enter the country as a green card holder. If denied, you will be provided with the reason for your denial so you can proceed accordingly.

Some other important things to know about the visa lottery are that the application window only runs once per year usually in October and you can only apply once, if your spouse gets selected when you both apply and you do not then you can still seek a derivative dependent visa, application to this lottery is free, and dependents only include your spouse or children. If you are not selected, then you can apply again the following year. There is no waiting period to apply again.

Do I Need to Consult With an Immigration Lawyer?

Immigration laws in general are very complicated, can change every year, and require a lot of steps that cannot be completed incorrectly. If you make a mistake then you can be prevented from entering the visa lottery and get a green card when you otherwise would have been able to complete the process.

Remember, you will have to wait an entire year to apply again so perfection is necessary during this process. While you can definitely apply for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program yourself, getting help from an experienced immigration lawyer can make the process run smoother. A lawyer can help you determine your eligibility for the lottery, gather all required documents, help fill out and submit the application, assist with the interview process, and help with completing green card entry into the country if your visa is granted.