Every year, 55,000 immigrant visas become available through the Diversity Visa (DV) program. These visas go to citizens from countries that don’t typically have high rates of immigration to the United States. Among this pool of visas, 5,000 are designated for use in Central American countries under NACARA, which was started with the DV in 1999. The lottery is held by the State Department (DOS) each year, and 110,000 applications are randomly selected. This number is higher than the number of available visas to account for those who will not complete the application process. However, the DV program closes once it has issued the 55,000 visas or the fiscal year ends.
Anyone who gets a visa through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program is able to legally live and work in the United States permanently. Those who are married are allowed to bring a spouse and any children under the age of 21 who are not married to the United States as well.

Who Can Apply for the Diversity Visa Lottery?

Only citizens from certain countries are eligible to apply for the Diversity Visa Lottery. This list of eligible countries is published by the State Department before the year’s lottery. In some cases, a person is able to apply if their parent is a citizen of an eligible country, even if the person themselves is not a citizen.
Additionally, applicants must have the equivalent of a high school diploma, which equates to a 12-year course of study at the elementary and secondary levels. Alternatively, applicants could have two years of work experience in a job that requires at least two years of training or experience.

What Is the Application Process?

Look for the instructions provided by the Department of State. These usually come out in a press release before the year’s drawing. You can also find them in the Federal Register, and the State Department website will also list pertinent information. In most cases, the registration period is in October, so the State Department puts out information in August.

Differences for Nonimmigrants Residing in the US

Occasionally, some of the lottery “winners” are people who are already living in the United States under a nonimmigrant visa. USCIS handles these visa applications, and the information below applies only to those who win the lottery while living legally in the US.

Eligibility Requirements

If you wish to change your visa status through the DV Program must be able to show:

  • That you were selected for a diversity visa through the lottery;
  • That you have an immigrant visa ready at the time of filing an adjustment application (Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status); and
  • That you are admissible to the United States

Availability of Visas

Information about availability of visas is located in the monthly DOS Visa Bulletin. In particular, Section B will show a chart detailing the number of visas available in the Diversity Immigrant category. It will also show if the cut-off has been met. During the month that the cut-off is met, applicants with Diversity Immigrant lottery rank numbers below the cut-off numbers for their area can still get visas.

Section C shows a chart that indicates advance notice of Diversity Immigrant visa availability the following month. Those who have lower rank numbers than the cut-off number each month can file for the adjustment of status. This advanced notice allows lottery winners the chance to file for status adjustment several weeks before the visa can actually be granted, giving USCIS extra time to decide on eligibility before the fiscal year ends.
The adjustment of visa status from nonimmigrant to a Diversity Immigrant-based status cannot occur until visas are available, as shown in the Visa Bulletin’s monthly cut-off numbers.

How To Apply

In order to receive a Green Card, applicants must file Form I-485 in addition to providing Supporting Evidence for Form I-485 such as:

  • Form G-325, Biographic Information for those between 14 and 79 years of age
  • Two passport-style pictures
  • Copy of the applicant’s birth certificate
  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record
  • Copy of the passport page that shows a nonimmigrant visa (if applicable)
  • Copy of passport page showing admission or parole stamp (if applicable)
  • Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
  • Copies of court records if the applicant has been arrested
  • Copy of the Diversity Lottery selection letter from the DOS for the principal applicant
  • Copy of receipt from DOS for the Diversity Lottery processing fee
  • Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility (if applicable)
  • Any required fees to process the application

Other Things to Consider

Diversity visa winners must complete the adjustment of status application and process before September 30 of the fiscal year. Applications cannot be carried over to the next year. FRAUD WARNING: Emails stating that you have won the Diversity Visa lottery are a scam. Do not send money to those claiming you have won. You can only get a Diversity Visa by following the appropriate procedures.

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Beeraj Patel, Esq.

Partner at KPPB Law
Beeraj Patel's philosophy is simple - make it easy for talented and ambitious individuals to have access to immigration materials so that they can make the choice which is right for them.
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