A green card lottery was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 to benefit people from countries that in recent years have sent the fewest numbers of immigrants to the United States. You can enter the lottery if you are a native of one of those countries and meet certain other requirements. Because the winners are selected through a random drawing, the program is popularly known as the green card lottery. Its official name is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery.
There are 50,000 winners selected 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.
People from most countries are eligible for the lottery. The only countries not qualified for the lottery with the application period beginning at noon on Wednesday October 2, 2019 and ending noon, Eastern Standard Time (EST) (GMT-5), on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, were:
People from countries other than those on the list above may submit a registration, with one exception: The latest version of the Trump travel ban, announced in February 2020, excludes some citizens of Sudan and Tanzania.
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.
Lottery applicants should make sure that they 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. You will also need a current, valid passport from that country when you apply (a new requirement added in 2019).
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, applicants from qualifying countries must have either:
U.S. job offers are not necessary. But lottery winners will 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.
All applicants must submit their applications via the State Department's website and attach digital photos, one of themself and one of each husband or wife and child.
You do NOT need to attach a digital image of your passport, just information from it, namely its number, country of issuance, and expiration date. Nevertheless, the DOS recommends you make your own photocopy and keep it in your files, in case you lose it and someday need to prove your valid entry.
If you have no passport because you are stateless, a national of a Communist-controlled country that won't give you a passport, you can claim an exception to this requirement. You can also ask for a waiver of the passport requirement as described in 22 C.F.R. §§ 42.2(d), (e), and (g)(2).
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.
There is a new registration period every year, usually in autumn. Applicants get a confirmation number at the end of the online entry process.
Print the confirmation screen or otherwise save your confirmation number. Applicants can check the State Department website, using the confirmation number, to find out whether they have won. For what's known as DV-2021, you can check beginning on May 7, 2020, and ending September 30, 2021.
Applicants will not receive any notification, but will have to check the State Department website at www.dvlottery.state.gov. Do so as early as you can.
Unfortunately, winning the lottery doesn't guarantee you a green card. 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 interview on time, the supply of green cards could run out.
This is a serious problem. The State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are so backed up that months can go by with no action, causing you to miss your opportunity altogether. If you are chosen in the diversity visa lottery, you should hire an experienced immigration attorney to help you.
Also, as with all green card applications, you still must prove that you'll be able to support yourself financially in the U.S. (will not likely become a "public charge"). This can be a huge challenge for lottery winners, particularly after the Trump Administration passed more stringent public charge rules.
You must also show that you are not otherwise "inadmissible" to the United States. For example, if you have been arrested for committing certain crimes, are considered a security risk, or are afflicted with certain physical or mental illnesses, you may be prevented from receiving a green card. (For more on inadmissibility, see Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.)
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.
And for detailed information to help you understand all the requirements for getting a green card, see the articles under Diversity Visa Lottery Green Cards, and the book How to Get a Green Card, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).