Foreign nationals caught in the long, tedious process of obtaining a green card will be heartened to hear that they might be able to strike it lucky and win the lottery. To be clear, the prize in this case isn’t money, but rather a faster way to lawful permanent resident status. The Diversity Immigrant Program, also known as the Lottery Visa, was set up to randomly issue visas to lucky foreign nationals (seeking green cards) from countries with low rates of immigration.
This page was designed to help individuals hoping to obtain a green card better understand some of the basics about the lottery visa and decide if they should consult an immigration lawyer. The following topics are covered on this page:
- Green Card Basics
- Diversity Immigrants Program
- Eligibility for Lottery Visa
- Exceptions For Eligibility
- Application Process
- Do I Need an Attorney?
It’s important to remember that while this page discusses immigration laws and related subjects, it is not intended as a substitute for speaking directly with a lawyer. An experienced immigration attorney can help a green-card applicant avoid costly and time-consuming mistakes.
Diversity Immigrants Program
Each year, the diversity immigrants program makes available up to 50,000 immigrant visas, distributed at random, to green card applicants who hail from countries with low rates of admission to the U.S. These countries are placed within six geographic regions including: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America. No country will get more than 7 percent of the diversity visas issued in a single year.
The Immigration and Nationality Act states that the Attorney General is responsible for determining low admission countries based on lawful permanent resident data collected from the previous five years. For information on the list of states eligible to apply for lottery visas, refer to the eligibility section below.
A foreign national applies for a Lottery Visa through the U.S. Department of State during a specific window of time — typically beginning in October and running through early November (see application process below).
All entries received within this time period have an equal chance of being selected for a lottery visa. When the enrollment period ends, a computer will select randomly from among the entries for each geographic region. Those found eligible for a diversity immigrant visa must be issued the visa within the fiscal year for which they applied.
Green Card Basics
A green card is a government-issued document that demonstrates a foreign national’s permission to live and work in the U.S. People granted green cards have what is known as lawful permanent residence.
There are two basic paths to obtaining a green card — either through a family member who is already a U.S. citizen (or green card holder), or through an offer of employment inside the U.S. Due to the limited amount of visas issued each year, the wait for a green card can take years.
In the case of immediate family members of U.S. citizens, there is no limit on the number of visas issued annually and wait times are usually shorter. However, in the case of employment-based visas and non-immediate family members, only a limited number are issued each year depending on specific criteria.
Eligibility for Lottery Visa
In order for a green-card applicant to be eligible to apply for a lottery visa, they must be a native of a country with a low-admission rate to the U.S. and have either a high school diploma or equivalent. If the applicant doesn’t have a high school diploma or equivalent, he or she must have two years of work experience in an occupation requiring two years of experience, within five years of applying for a green card.
An applicant can verify employment eligibility by visiting O*NET online database. Job descriptions listed in this database feature a specific vocational range (SVP) number. In order to be eligible for a Lottery Visa, a job must have an SVP range of 7.0 or higher.
While the most current list of countries eligible for lottery visas is too long to detail on this page, it can be found by visiting usvisas.state.gov/dv/instructions.
Non-eligible countries for 2018 include:
- China (mainland-born),
- Dominican Republic,
- El Salvador,
- South Korea,
- United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland), and its dependant territories, and
One notable change for 2018 applicants is that natives of Ecuador are eligible to apply for the Diversity Immigrants Program.
Exceptions For Eligibility
If a green card applicant was not born in an eligible country, but his or her spouse was, it is possible the applicant can claim the spouses’ country as the native state. In some cases an applicant who is not a native of an eligible country, but whose parents were, may claim the parents’ country of birth as the native state.
While this page outlines some of the subtleties pertaining to Lottery Visa eligibility, it is necessary to speak directly with an immigration attorney to get a better understanding of federal laws and regulations. If you have questions about your eligibility for the Lottery Visa program, contact our office to see if we can help.
It is important to keep in mind that there is a limited window of time each fiscal year in which a person can apply for the Lottery Visa. Typically, this window begins in October. Registration for the 2018 program begins October 4, 2016 and ends November 7, 2016.
An eligible foreign national must fill out an entry form (E-DV Entry Form or DS 5501), and submit it online at dvlottery.state.gov. It is important that an applicant only file one form, as submitting multiple entries will result in disqualification.
Once the form is filed, it is the applicant’s responsibility to regularly use the registrant status check at dvlottery.state.gov to see if he or she has been randomly selected for a Lottery Visa. Typically the system is available to be checked starting in May. The government does not directly inform applicants who have been selected.
If an applicant discovers he or she has been selected for Lottery Visa, that person will be directed to a confirmation page providing further instructions on how to apply for their visa.
Lottery Visa winners who are residing in the U.S. legally (either under nonimmigrant or other status) at the time of their selection are eligible to apply directly for adjustment of status. An individual residing in the states at the time they win the lottery must have an immigrant visa immediately available at the time they file an Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Form I-485). This form is filed through US Immigration and Customs Services (USCIS).
Do I Need an Attorney?
As this page has hopefully demonstrated, successful applicants in the Diversity Immigrants Program benefit from a certain amount of luck. In 2014, 11 million people applied for the lottery visa. However, regardless of how much good fortune an applicant has, the process for obtaining a green card can be daunting.
A qualified immigration attorney can help a person navigate the complex and often confusing immigration system and avoid mistakes that could lead to disqualification. To find out if an immigration attorney can help you in your specific case, contact our office for more information.
 INA § 203 (c)(1)(A)
 22 CFR §42.33(a)(1)