Every year, the US Government selects applicants from a wide list of countries in a lottery system known as the diversity visa lottery. In most years, many more people apply than are able to complete the process. There are some requirements to enter, but they are not as difficult as employment-based cases and do not require the family relationships that many green card cases require.
The US Department of State operates the diversity visa lottery. Each year in October and November, people are invited to register for the lottery for visas available during the next fiscal year. Fiscal years are not the same as calendar years in the United States, and the fiscal year begins on October 1st. As a result, registrants in October are applying for visas that would become available the next October, which means it is always two fiscal years ahead of the current calendar year (as October of 2020 is fiscal year 2021, and visas would be available starting in fiscal year 2022).
How Does the Diversity Visa Process Work?
The diversity visa process involves four main stages:
- Interview and decision
Only the individuals who are able to make it through all the steps by the end of the fiscal year will be able to obtain an immigrant visa or green card.
The diversity visa registration process opens every year for qualified applicants to register. The registration process is fully online and completely free. Applicants for the 2022 Diversity Visa can register here: https://dvprogram.state.gov/
Diversity visa applicants are selected on about May 8th each year. This is when everyone who registered must go and check to see if their entry was drawn and to know whether they will be eligible to seek permanent resident status. If not, they can apply during the next registration period.
If selected, diversity visa applicants will still need to submit an application. If outside the United States, they must apply for an immigrant visa. Inside the United States, most people will apply for adjustment of status unless they prefer to leave and attend an interview abroad. The exact application process varies, but involves payment of visa fees, completion of forms, submission of evidence, and an interview.
The application process is often time sensitive. Diversity visa numbers are not issued all at once and so people often must wait several months into the fiscal year before they can apply. This waiting period is determined by the visa bulletin. If a visa number becomes available late in the fiscal year, everything must be filed quickly in order to be able to complete the process before the end of the fiscal year.
Interview and Decision
Whether getting a visa abroad or adjusting status in the United States, diversity visa cases generally have in-person interviews. Most countries have US embassies or consulates where diversity visa applicants must go to have an interview. In the United States, the place of interview will depend on where the applicant lives and files for adjustment of status.
The purpose of the interview is to confirm the accuracy of the application and to confirm the applicant is eligible for permanent residency. There are many factors that can make someone ineligible for permanent residency or a visa, such as criminal history, misrepresentation, prior immigration problems in the US, deportations, and more.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Diversity Visa Lottery
When can I submit an application for the diversity visa lottery?
The current diversity visa registration period will open on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at 12:00 noon, and conclude on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 12:00 noon. Visas that are becoming available now in the month of October, 2020, were selected from registrants in November, 2019. This registration period is for visas that will become available in October of 2021 (fiscal year 2022).
Do I get a green card if I am selected for the diversity visa?
The diversity visa process allows someone to get permanent residency, which is the same has having a green card. This is a permanent immigrant visa, not a temporary visa. Applicants abroad will go for a consular interview first, and have to pay for the green card once they have been approved. In the US, people are sometimes eligible to file for adjustment of status and become residents without leaving based on the diversity visa process.
Diversity visa selection is not the same as approval. In most years, many more people are selected than those who are able to complete the process and become permanent residents.
What countries are eligible for the diversity visa lottery?
Diversity visas are authorized for natives of certain countries. The term “native” is a legal one and it means the country where someone was born, not necessarily their country of residence. Some people can choose to be “charged” to a different country based on their spouse’s or parents’ countries of birth. The “chargeability” rules can get complicated and should be reviewed with a lawyer.
The list of countries eligible to file for the diversity visa is in the program instructions, linked below. Some individuals may be eligible for multiple countries and should consider the comparative benefits of filing under one country as opposed to another.
Can my spouse and I register separately for the diversity visa lottery?
Yes, while a single applicant can only file a single application, spouses can file their own individual applications. Because diversity visas allow for derivative spouses, this often gives spouses two chances at the diversity visa rather than one.
Resources for the Diversity Visa Lottery