What Is the US Green Card Lottery?

Did you know that more than 23 million people each year apply for a chance at the American Dream by receiving an immigrant visa through a lottery?

The U.S. Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery — also known as the U.S. green card lottery — is a popular way for immigrants from countries with few immigration numbers to start their journey to emigrate to America.

Read on to learn about the U.S. green card lottery system. We detail how it works and answer all the essential questions about gaining temporary immigration status in the United States.

Basics of the U.S. Green Card Lottery

The U.S. government started the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery program, known as the green card lottery, through the Immigration Act of 1990. Congress began the program to ensure diversity within the immigrant pool. 

Each year, this program awards 55,000 immigrant visas to lucky green card lottery winners through a randomized computer drawing. These coveted diversity visas are a way to boost immigration rates from regions that don’t have many vying to live in the U.S.

The Department of State runs the green card lottery program, giving people from smaller countries a chance to become permanent residents in America.

How It Works

The first step in the green card lottery program is submitting an online application for a chance to win.

The Department of State divides the green card applicants into six geographical areas. To keep things fair and diverse, no one country can have more than seven percent of the green card lottery winners in any given year. They pick winners from a random drawing.

If selected, successful applicants begin the process of getting a U.S. green card. The application process takes about two years and includes an interview, confirmation of your qualifications, backup documents, and applying for an immigrant visa.

Who is Eligible

To be able to enter the green card lottery there are a few basic rules.

First, applicants have to have a high school education or two years of work experience in certain specified jobs. The Department of Labor lists which occupations qualify.

While there is no official age rule, the fact that applicants need a high school diploma means most eligible persons will be at least 18 years old. 

Applicants also have to be foreign nationals from a country with low immigration rates. Each year, the Department of State releases a list of qualifying countries grouped by region. In the past year, the bulk of the eligible countries are smaller nations in Africa, Europe, and South and Central America.

Who Cannot Apply 

Due to high immigration rates from certain regions, some countries can’t enter the lottery. The main reason is that more than 50,000 people from those countries have immigrated to the U.S. in the past five years.

The Department of State has not released which countries are ineligible for the 2023 Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery. In 2022, some of the countries included (based on the geographical region):

  • Brazil, Colombia, and Haiti
  • Canada and Mexico
  • China, South Korea, and Vietnam

How to Enter the U.S. Green Card Lottery

It is a simple and easy process to enter the green card lottery.

Eligible persons fill out the online application during the open registration window. Usually, the application period is from early October to early November each year.

Interested persons can apply through the State Department’s online portal, which opens when the enrollment period begins. You cannot download and mail in a lottery entry.

Due to high demand, officials recommend not waiting until the last week of the registration period to apply. Lottery rules state one application per person. More than one entry per person will be disqualified.

Have Registration Documents Ready 

Before filling out a USA Green Card Lottery application, you will want to have all the required documents handy. The online registration form is designed for applicants to fill the form out in one sitting. Once you start the form, you have 60 minutes to complete and submit it before the time expires.

The form will ask for basic personal information, including your name, date of birth, marital status, and the country you were born. If the country you were born in has a different name, use the country’s current name.

It will also ask for your country of eligibility. State Department officials say applicants should list the country they were born in. If you qualify for the lottery under a spouse or your parents’ birth country, then use that.

Other personal documents to have available include:

  • Valid passport information
  • Digital color photos of you, your spouse, and children
  • Names and ages of children

Photo Requirements

When filling out the green card lottery form, be sure to have high-quality digital photographs of you and your family to upload.

The Department of State wants color photos that meet certain standards. That means photos have to be in focus. They have to be current images, taken within the past six months. For details on how photos should look, review the rules here.

Green Card Lottery Costs

The good news is that it is free to enter the green card lottery. The federal government does not charge a fee. All you have to do is fill out the online entry form.

Green card application fees don’t come into play until after someone is selected in the lottery. 

Lottery Registration Deadlines and Dates

Each year the window to enter the green card lottery opens for four to five weeks in the fall.

The next registration period opens from early October to early November 2021. This is for the 2023 Diversity Visa lottery. This means successful immigrants would be able to enter the U.S. as new permanent residents in 2023. 

For details about the 2023 Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, including submission deadlines, check out the U.S. Department of State’s website.

Finding Out if You Won the Lottery

To learn whether you won the green card lottery, you have to check the online Entrant Status Check website. Unfortunately, the Department of State will not let you know if you won a spot in the lottery or not.

It’s important to note that the U.S. government won’t send any notifications through emails or regular mail.

The portal to check your status is usually open from May to September the year after applications close. Applicants simply enter their confirmation number given to them after the forms are submitted.

This is why it’s important to keep your confirmation number, as this is the only way to know if you’ve been selected. 

Ways to Increase Your Lottery Chances

With more than 23 million aspiring immigrants joining the lottery, the chances of getting one of the 55,000 immigrant visas are very slim.

One of the best ways to increase your chances of getting that golden ticket is by having everyone in your family who is eligible apply. If your spouse gets a spot, you are eligible to get a green card as well. State Department rules allow spouses to apply as a derivative dependent.

If You Win, Next Steps 

If you are one of the lucky winners, time is of the essence. Immigrants chosen for green cards have to apply and have their visas processed and issued within the fiscal year of the program.

Each visa application entry is ranked, so it’s important to apply when your number is eligible. And the government issues more green card lottery winners than available visas because some applicants won’t meet all the requirements for a green card.

The Green Card Application Process 

Now that you’ve been invited to apply to the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, expect the process to take up to two years. 

Once you submit your green card application, officials will confirm that you meet the education and work qualifications. Each family member will be required to submit supporting documents.

One of the green card requirements is a face-to-face interview. Everyone who is applying for an immigrant visa must attend the interview. If you do not live in the U.S. a representative in the Embassy or Consulate will conduct the interview.

At the end of the interview, the consular officer will let you know whether your immigrant visa application has been granted.

Winning the Green Card Lottery 

One of the ways to keep this nation of immigrants diversified is through the federally mandated Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery.

Each year millions of aspiring immigrants enter the U.S. green card lottery for a chance to apply for one of 55,000 immigrant visas. While the probability of getting picked is low, it is still a chance to achieve the American dream and become a permanent resident of the United States.

If you enjoyed reading this comprehensive guide to how the green card lottery works, check out our website for more enticing articles to stay up-to-date on current events.

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