The U.S. green card lottery (created in 1990) benefits people from countries that are underrepresented in U.S. immigration; in other words, that have sent the fewest numbers of immigrants to the United States in recent years. You can enter the lottery if you are a native of one of those countries and meet certain educational and other requirements. Because the winners are selected through a random drawing, the "Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery" is popularly known as the green card lottery.
This article will discuss:
It's important to realize, however, that this is not like a lottery where winnings are instant. Entering the DV lottery is only step one in a complex application process.
There are 50,000 lottery slots made available each year. They are chosen by dividing the world into regions and allocating no more than 7% of the total green cards to each region.
If someone is both chosen in the lottery and manages to get through the subsequent green card application process, their spouse and children (under age 21 and unmarried) can apply for U.S. lawful permanent residence along with them.
People from most countries are eligible for the lottery. The only countries not qualified for the lottery with the application period called DV-2025, which began at noon on October 4, 2023 and ended at noon on November 7, 2023, were:
People from countries other than those on the list above could submit a registration. And there was one big change from the previous year: people from the United Kingdom became newly eligible to enter the DV lottery.
Different qualifying countries are selected each year, based on which nations—and which areas of the world—sent the fewest numbers of immigrants to the U.S. during the previous five years, in proportion to the size of their populations.
Before entering your name, make sure you can actually claim what the law describes as "nativity" in an eligible country. Living in a country is not enough. Nativity is usually based on having been born in the country.
If you are a native of one of the ineligible countries, there are a couple of ways to get around this and become eligible to apply:
In addition, to qualify for the lottery, applicants from qualifying countries must have either:
U.S. job offers are not necessary. But lottery winners will (if their names are chosen and they get to the green-card application stage) need to be able to prove that they'll be able to support themselves financially in the United States.
If you're from a qualifying country and you meet the other eligibility criteria, you can submit an entry during the open registration period—but only one per year. People who try to apply more than once will be have all their lottery visa applications tossed out of the running.
However, your spouse of other qualifying members of a family may apply, and potentially bring you along if they win. See Beating the Odds: Increase the Chances for You and Your Family to Win the Diversity Visa Lottery.
All applicants must follow these basic steps:
There is no fee for this initial registration; so watch out for websites and consultants who claim that there is, or who charge you a lot of money for supposed "special" inside help. The entry form itself is fairly simple, and the help you're most likely to need is simply dealing with the Internet and digital photo requirement, which any computer-smart friend might be able to offer.
Registrations submitted one year are NOT held over to the next. So, if you are not selected one year, you need to reregister the next year in order to be considered.
Applicants will not receive any notification, but will have to check the State Department website at www.dvprogram.state.gov, using their confirmation number, to find out whether they have won. For guidance, see How Will You Know If You Have Been Selected for the DV Lottery? During what's known as DV-2025, you can check whether your name was chosen beginning on May 4, 2024 and ending September 30, 2025. Do so as early as you can.
Unfortunately, winning the lottery doesn't guarantee you or your family a green card. For one thing, the U.S. government always declares more winners than there are green cards. That means if you don't follow up quickly or receive your visa/green card interview on time, the supply of green cards could run out. What's more, the bulk of the work lies ahead, in terms of filling out application forms, gathering documents, and scheduling an interview.
Exactly what procedures you'll need to follow after winning depends on where you are currently living.
If you live outside the U.S., you will do what's known as "consular processing." The nearest U.S. consulate will advise you when and how to take the next steps in submitting your application and attending your visa interview.
If you're living in the U.S., see Won the Diversity Visa Lottery and Living in the U.S.? Where to Process Your Green Card for information on how to "adjust status," which involves applying to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and attending an interview at once of its local offices.
Complete instructions on how to apply for the lottery are on the State Department website. Check it regularly to find out about the latest lottery. You shouldn't need much professional help with this part of the process, though a computer-savvy friend can be handy.
For detailed information on the requirements for getting a green card, see articles on Diversity Visa Lottery Green Cards, and the book How to Get a Green Card, by Ilona Bray (Nolo). This part is complicated, and time sensitive. If chosen in the diversity visa lottery, you should really consult an experienced attorney.