If you are a foreign national living in the United States and have learned that you were selected for the Diversity Visa (DV) lottery, there are many steps ahead before you can turn this luck into actual U.S. legal immigration status (a green card). What's more, not everyone who is currently living in the United States will be able to complete the application process here, in particular if their presence here is not lawful (they have no valid immigration papers).
This article examines who can successfully apply for a green card based on selection for the DV lottery, and the possibilities and procedures for doing so if the person is living in the United States.
If you are selected for the DV lottery, and are in the U.S. in lawful status (most likely with an unexpired stay under a visa), you may in all likelihood claim your resident status by filing what's called an Application to Adjust Status (AOS). This is done on Form I-485, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In only a few exceptional cases is someone lawfully in the U.S. prohibited from adjusting status here, for instance people who entered on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) or as crewpersons.
The AOS process involves mailing all your paperwork to, and most likely attending an interview at, an office of USCIS. You will be able to do all of this without having to leave the United States.
If you entered the U.S. illegally, or stayed past the expiration date on the I-94 you received upon entering the U.S. on a visa, however (you "overstayed"), you are most likely ineligible for AOS. See Who Can Apply for a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status for details. You should also consult an immigration lawyer for a full analysis of your situation.
Bureaucratic delays, inaccuracies in your initial DV entry, and inadmissibility could all pose problems in your application for AOS, as discussed below.
Timing: All DV-based applicants must obtain approval of the AOS application before the annual allotment of DV visas runs out for that fiscal year. The fiscal year ends on September 30, but visas often run out well before that date. The U.S. government takes time to process the applications, and the sooner you get yours in, the greater the chances that it won't get held up in administrative processing. For this reason, you should start working on your AOS application as soon as you know you are selected, and maintain your current visa status until your AOS is actually granted.
Inaccuracies in the initial DV entry: Failure to list a spouse or child on your initial DV lottery entry could be a ground for USCIS to deny your AOS.
Inadmissibility issues: You can be found "inadmissible" to the U.S. if, for example, you have committed a crime, have certain health issues, or appear to be a risk to U.S. security. In some cases, you may ask the U.S. government to overlook the ground of inadmissibility. For more information, see Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.
Once you have determined that you are eligible for AOS, here's how to prepare the paperwork :
Within three weeks of mailing your application, you should receive written notice from USCIS. With the case number included on the notice, you will be able to monitor the status of your case online, via telephone, or in person with a USCIS local office.
In order to avoid the possibility of getting bogged down in paperwork and missing your opportunity for a diversity visa, your best bet is to get help from an experienced immigration attorney immediately. The attorney can analyze your options and help prepare the paperwork.