What Is the Visa Lottery, and How Does It Work?

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery, is a type of lottery program under the Department of State. The goal of this program is to increase the diversity of immigrants entering the U.S. by selecting immigrants from countries with fewer migrants than others.

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For help with applying for an immigrant visa or entering the Diversity Visa program, consider speaking with the attorneys at The Law Offices of Cheng, Cho, & Yee, PC. 312-853-3088.

If you want to enter the country on a visa and your country of origin qualifies for a Diversity Visa (DV), you may be eligible to apply for this chance to gain residency in the U.S. However, you should understand more about what this visa lottery is, visa availability, and how to apply to ensure you’re able to be a part of this program.

What Is the Visa Lottery?

Every year, the U.S. government holds a lottery to randomly select over 50,000 immigrants from countries with lower rates of immigration than others. These candidates may obtain a green card that allows them to gain lawful permanent residency in the U.S. It’s easy to enter into this lottery online. All you need to do is complete a basic form, and it doesn’t require entrants to pay a fee of any kind.

What Is the Purpose of the Visa Lottery Program in the United States?

There are challenges that immigrants face in their home countries that may lead them to enter the U.S. The primary purpose of the lottery program is to give these immigrants a chance to live and work in the U.S. when they may otherwise be unable to apply for immigration.

Specifically, the visa lottery allows immigrants from countries with lower immigrant rates to enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents (LPRs) on a green card, creating more diversity in the country. Some lottery winners enter the U.S. as non-immigrants. Knowing the difference between immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas can help you determine which to seek when entering the U.S.

To qualify for the DV lottery, you’ll need to meet criteria to make you eligible for selection.

Visa Lottery Eligibility Criteria

To enter the Diversity Visa program, there are a couple of key criteria you must meet to qualify for this lottery. These items include:

  • You must be a citizen of a country that has a lower immigration rate compared to other nations.
  • You must also have a high school degree or an equivalent, or have sufficient work experience behind you.

Currently, the countries that qualify for the DV lottery include many nations in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and the Americas. The Department of State lists all the countries that appear on this list, and the list will change depending on immigration rate fluctuations and other factors.

In addition, you must meet all other qualifications to be admissible to the U.S. as an immigrant or non-immigrant. However, the lottery aims to make it easier for those who might otherwise struggle to gain entry.

How Does the Selection Process Work?

When holding the visa lottery, the Department of State randomly selects more than 50,000 qualifying individuals from countries with low immigrant rates to allow them entry into the U.S. A computer conducts the actual selection process based on digital forms that applicants submit.

The selection process takes place between October and November of every year.

How Much Does the Diversity Visa Program Cost?

At this time, entrants in the Diversity Visa program don’t need to pay a fee to enter the lottery. Applicants only need to pay the current green card fees in place upon selection and seeking entry into the U.S.

The U.S. government will detail the costs and provide you with further instructions to complete the visa application process after selection.

How Long Does It Take to Get Selected?

In most cases, the timeline of the DV lottery is seven to 14 months following initial entry. Generally, entrants will receive notification of their win within seven months following submission. However, you may need to wait up to another seven months to go through the visa application and interview process before you’re able to receive your green card.

The total amount of time it takes to receive a visa after winning the lottery will ultimately depend on the type of visa, visa availability, and the time when you submit your application. For instance, you will only be able to apply for your visa during the fiscal year following the announcement of the lottery winners. In 2024, the fiscal year runs from July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024. The earlier you apply for your visa, the shorter the timeline is likely to be.

What Is the Visa Availability for the DV Lottery?

The amount of time it takes to complete the visa application process will largely depend on availability. The visas you can apply for will change based on the number of applicants and the number of available visas.

To find out which visas are available to you at the time of applying, you can take a look at the DOS Visa Bulletin. You can see details about the Diversity Immigrant visa availability specifically in Section B of the bulletin, titled “Diversity Immigrant (DV) Category for the Month of [Specific Month].”

Additionally, you can review Section C of the bulletin to find the rank cut-offs for the next month for Diversity Immigrants. If your rank is lower than the cut-off for the month, you may apply for adjustment of immigrant status within seven weeks before a Diversity Visa becomes available, enabling applicants to determine whether they’re eligible for adjustment of status early on.

The Application Process for a Green Card

If you win the lottery, you will need to begin the process of applying for a green card to gain lawful permanent residency in the U.S. You must complete Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

In addition to submitting this document, you must collect and present sufficient supporting documentation to prove your eligibility for a visa. This supporting evidence could include:

  • Two passport-style photographs of yourself
  • Form I-693, which details the results of a medical examination and vaccination history
  • A copy of your birth certificate
  • Copies of court records if you have a criminal record
  • A copy of the DOS’s receipt after paying the visa processing fee
  • Other required fees

Watch Out for Scams

If you’re planning on entering or have entered the Diversity Visa program, avoid scam attempts. In some cases, malicious individuals may send emails claiming that the recipient has won the Diversity Visa lottery, but these emails are fraudulent and can result in scammers gaining recipients’ personal information and payment.

The scammers will pose as agents from the U.S. government and claim that recipients have won the lottery, requesting payment through a spoof website imitating travel.state.gov or other legitimate domains.

You will never need to pay a fee to enter the DV lottery, and you will only learn whether you won the DV lottery through dvprogam.state.gov, which is where you can check your status via the DV Entrant Status Check.

The U.S. government will only send lottery entrants email reminders to check their DV Entrant Status on the official DV program website. Any other instructions or links will indicate that the email is a scam attempt.

Consider Hiring an Attorney

If you’re not sure whether you qualify for the visa lottery, or if you need assistance with going through the visa application process, you may want to work with immigration legal services attorneys for help.

The right attorneys can walk you through the immigration process and ensure you have all paperwork prepared for submission. This preparation includes gathering and organizing supporting documentation to go along with your application, increasing your chances of successfully applying.

If the USCIS makes a mistake, or if there are issues or legal troubles that arise during the immigration process, an attorney can help navigate these and work to prevent your potential removal or deportation.

Want to successfully enter into the DV program? Maybe you want to go a different route to gain LPR or non-immigrant status in the U.S. In any case, a good Chicago immigration attorney could help you with representation you can trust. At The Law Offices of Cheng, Cho, & Yee, PC, we can help you take the right path toward immigrant or non-immigrant status. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help you.