Spouses and Children of Visa Lottery Applicants Can Qualify for Derivative Green Cards

Details of which close family members should be listed on one's application to the diversity visa lottery program, so as to allow them a U.S. green card as well.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

Applicants who win the Diversity Visa lottery can, under U.S. immigration law, extend that benefit to their spouses and children (if they're under 21 years old and unmarried), so that the whole family can apply together for U.S. green cards (lawful permanent residence). These spouses and children are called "derivatives."

In order for a spouse and children to take advantage of this opportunity, however, they must have been listed when the primary applicant first registered, via the online State Department application. If you are planning to apply for the diversity visa lottery, this article will help you make sure to get the right people properly entered on this application, and provide tips about who is truly eligible.

Entering Your Spouse and Children's Information on the Online Diversity Visa Application

When the annual lottery program opens, and you submit an entry on the DOS website, you will need to include the name, date, and place of birth for your spouse and all of your non-U.S.-born children. This includes all adopted children and step-children.

You must list a child even if you are no longer married to the other parent. You must include your spouse's information even if you are planning to get a divorce. You are not required to list a spouse or child who is already a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident (green card holder); but it's a good idea to do so, particularly if you have any doubt about the person's U.S. immigration status.

If you neglect to include a spouse or child, they will not be eligible for a diversity visa. In fact, if you do not list your spouse and all children who are unmarried and under 21 at the time of your online diversity visa application, then you will be disqualified, because your application was incomplete. Everyone listed in the application will be denied visas at the time of the visa or green card interview.

The fact that you have listed a family member on your application does not mean that they must come to the United States with you. Any person listed on the application has the choice to remain behind or, in some cases, to enter the United States later.

Keeping Children Eligible for a Diversity Visa Through the Visa Interview

As mentioned above, children must be under 21 to qualify for a green card based on the diversity visa. But what if a child of yours will turn 21 before the application process (which may take several months) is completed?

The child might still be able to get a diversity visa, based on a law called the "Child Status Protection Act," or CSPA. You will need to count the number of days between the start of the visa lottery application period and the date the applicant is selected. Then subtract this amount of time from the child's age on the date the child is able to get a visa.

Also important is that your children remain unmarried until they have become U.S. permanent residents. That means through the visa interview, and right up until they enter the U.S. with their immigrant visas, when they become permanent residents upon entry. Remind any children who are considering marriage (or even seem to be in a serious relationship) of this fact. More than a few young people's immigration chances have been destroyed by last-minute marriages.

Submitting DV Applications for Both Spouses in a Couple

Both married partners can, if they are both natives of a qualifying country, submit an entry into the diversity visa lottery. This is strategically important because if either is selected, the other can get a visa through the winner. It basically doubles your chances of winning.

The U.S. government recognizes same-sex marriages for immigration purposes, and same-sex married couples can list each other as spouses on a visa lottery application. The same-sex couple must be considered legally married according to the state or country where the governmentally recognized wedding was held.

If the Primary Diversity Visa Winner Dies

Unfortunately, if a winning visa lottery applicant dies before the diversity visa is granted by the U.S. consulate or government, then the spouse and any children cannot get visas.

Where to Go for Help With a Diversity Visa Application

Complete instructions on how to apply for the lottery are on the Diversity Visa page of the State Department website. Check it regularly to find out about the latest lottery. For detailed information to help you understand all the requirements for getting U.S. lawful permanent residence, see How to Get a Green Card, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).

Also consider hiring an attorney; because the U.S. government chooses more "winners" than there are actual visas available in one year, people who don't make it through the process in time could lose out entirely.

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