Diversity Visa Lottery

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The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program allots 55,000 permanent-resident visas each year for applicants from countries that have a low rate of immigration to the U.S. In a lottery process, the federal government chooses 100,000 applicants from the millions received each year and allows those applicants to apply for the limited diversity visas.

To apply for the diversity lottery, an applicant must show proof of a high school diploma or two years of work experience within the past five years in a position that requires at least two years of experience. Only one application per person is accepted into the lottery; the submission of more than one application results in the voiding of all applications by that person.

Winning a lottery spot does not guarantee that a visa will be available. The government works on a fiscal year that runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of the following year. Applicants selected in the lottery who do not have an immigrant visa in hand by Sept. 30 will not be able to gain permanent residence through that selection and will have to file again in the next fiscal year. A lottery winner’s spouse and children who are under 21 may also apply for a diversity visa as a derivative.

Once the applicant has been selected in the lottery, the follow-through process to obtain a visa depends on where the individual lives. A person outside the U.S. will be processed through the immigrant visa unit of the U.S. Consulate that is responsible for permanent visas in the applicant’s home country. A person inside the U.S. may apply for permanent residence from within the U.S. only if he or she:

  • is in lawful immigration status at the time, or
  • had an application for labor certification or petition filed before April 30, 2001, and was in the U.S. on Dec. 21, 2000, or
  • had an application for labor certification or petition filed before Jan. 14, 1998.

Otherwise, the applicant will have to leave the country to process the paperwork.

Of the lottery spots, 20,000 are provided to individuals from Africa, 7,000 from Asia, 24,000 from Europe, eight from North America, fewer than 1,000 from Oceania and 2,500 from South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Once the 55,000 diversity visas have been issued, the program ends for that fiscal year. Countries that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. within the previous five years are excluded from the program.

Before pursuing a diversity lottery visa, consult an attorney who specializes in immigration law, particularly if you live in the U.S.

Last update: Sept. 23, 2008