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How does the lottery work for immigration?

The lottery for immigration refers to the Diversity Visa program run by the U.S. Department of State. This program makes available up to 50,000 immigrant visas each year to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The visas are distributed randomly through a lottery system.

The Diversity Visa lottery aims to encourage immigration from countries that have sent fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous five years. Applicants for the lottery must meet certain eligibility requirements related to education, work experience, and country of origin. If selected through the lottery, applicants go through extensive vetting and background checks before being granted a green card for permanent residence in the United States.

What is the Diversity Visa Lottery?

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery, is a United States congressionally-mandated lottery program for receiving a United States Permanent Resident Card. The Immigration Act of 1990 established the current and permanent Diversity Visa program.

The lottery makes available up to 55,000 permanent resident visas each year to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Most visas are awarded to nationals of African, Asian, European, and South American countries. The visas are distributed among six geographic regions with a greater number of visas going to regions with lower rates of immigration, and with no visas going to nationals of countries sending more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. over the period of the last five years.

The application process is free and fairly easy, which accounts for the lottery’s great popularity worldwide. The limited number of diversity visas prompts a feverish pace of applications each year during the one-month application window. Successful applicants are chosen by a computer-generated, random lottery drawing.

Purpose of the Diversity Visa Program

The diversity immigrant visa program was designed to encourage immigration from countries that historically have sent lower numbers of immigrants to the United States. Citizens of countries that send large numbers of immigrants were excluded from the diversity visa lottery.

The goal was to promote diversity among immigrant populations by selecting applicants mostly from countries without significant representation in the U.S. immigrant population. Over 15 million people apply for the program each year.

How Many Visas Are Available?

There are 55,000 diversity immigrant visas available each fiscal year according to U.S. law. However, some visas go unused in the program. In recent years, around 50,000 immigrant visas have been issued to lottery winners. The visas are distributed among six geographic regions:

  • Africa: 19,000 visas
  • Asia: 8,300 visas
  • Europe: 14,600 visas
  • North America (other than Mexico): 8 visas
  • Oceania: 1,150 visas
  • South America, Central America, Mexico: 2,000 visas

Within each region, no single country may receive more than 7% of the available visas. Specific allotments are made to ensure diversity in each region.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to apply for the green card lottery, you must meet the following requirements:

1. Country of Origin

Your country of birth must be an eligible country for the Diversity Visa program. Countries that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous five years are not eligible. This includes large developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, and others.

You can still qualify for the lottery if your spouse was born in an eligible country, or one of your parents was born in an eligible country as long as neither of your parents was born in or resided in an excluded country. Check the State Department’s list of eligible countries for the latest year’s lottery to confirm your eligibility.

2. Education or Work Experience

You must have either:

  • A high school education or its equivalent, defined as successful completion of a 12-year course of elementary and secondary education;
  • Or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience to perform.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s O*Net Online database will be used to determine qualifying work experience.

3. No Immigration Violations

You are not eligible if you have violated terms of a previous visa. Violations include things like overstaying a visa, working without authorization, or making a misrepresentation in your immigration paperwork.

You also cannot have an existing diversity visa application submitted for the same year. Submitting more than one application per year will disqualify you.

4. Admissibility

You must be admissible to the United States, meaning you are not barred from immigration for reasons like criminal behavior or security threats. There are many crimes and security risks that could make you inadmissible.

Some bars to admissibility can be waived for a spouse or other relatives, but generally you must demonstrate good moral character to be approved for a diversity visa.

Applying for the Green Card Lottery


You can enter the green card lottery for free through the U.S. State Department’s electronic diversity visa entry form at The registration period is very short, usually occurring for just one month each year between early October and early November.

The online form will ask you to submit basic biographical information to check your eligibility and enter the lottery. Applicants are chosen at random by computer from among qualified entries. There are no preferences or priorities except the regional allocations.

It is extremely important that you provide accurate, truthful information on your entry. Fraud or multiple applications can lead to permanent ineligibility for any future U.S. visas. You can submit only one entry per year.


If you are selected through the lottery, you will be notified by mail between May and July of the year following your application. Notifications are sent to the address you provide on your entry form. The notification letter will provide further instructions on your application.

Only around 100,000 applicants are notified of selection each year, while over 15 million people apply. So your chances of being chosen are very slim. You can check the status of your entry through the E-DV website using the unique confirmation number you receive when submitting your entry form.

Visa Process

If selected, you will be allowed to apply for permanent residence and undergo further screening. You will need to submit an official online visa application and attend a consular interview.

You and your family members will also have to undergo extensive background checks and provide police certificates to confirm you have no criminal record. Medical examinations by approved doctors will determine if you have any health conditions that would make you inadmissible.

This visa screening process can take many months to complete after you are first notified of being selected. If you comply with requests in a timely manner and complete all processing steps, you will be granted permanent residence status once a visa number becomes available.

Benefits of Winning the Green Card Lottery

The biggest benefit of winning the diversity visa lottery is the ability to gain permanent resident status in the United States along with many other privileges, including:

  • Live and work permanently anywhere in the United States.
  • Qualify for citizenship after 5 years of residency.
  • Protection from deportation.
  • Ability to sponsor visas for relatives.
  • Travel freely in and out of the United States.
  • Receive Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, and welfare benefits.
  • Ability to pursue education and employment opportunities.
  • Potentially qualify for federal financial aid for higher education.

In addition to those tangible benefits, winning the green card lottery offers you the amazing opportunity to greatly improve your life and future by immigrating to the United States. The diversity visa serves as a once-in-a-lifetime chance for many applicants.

Downsides of Winning the Lottery

Despite the many potential benefits, there are also some downsides to winning the diversity visa lottery you should consider:

  • High demand leads to long visa processing times. It can take a year or more after being notified before your visa interview.
  • Winning does not guarantee you will receive a visa, since you must still complete screening.
  • You and derivatives must meet education/work experience requirements.
  • Lottery winners give up any other non-immigrant status they hold.
  • You may face difficulties and expenses arranging housing and a move to the U.S.
  • Cultural and language barriers exist in adapting to American life.
  • You will need to seek employment and work authorization upon arrival.
  • There are fees associated with applying for permanent residency and a green card.

Make sure you carefully consider the challenges of immigrating before applying for the diversity visa lottery. Have a plan for transitioning your life and family if you win.

Scams and Fraud Warnings

Unfortunately, many scams exist related to the green card lottery. Here are some common frauds and how to avoid them:

  • The lottery is free, so never pay any agency for entry or assistance with your application.
  • Avoid third parties offering to enter or track your application for extra fees.
  • Never pay for someone’s promise to influence the results or increase your chances of winning.
  • Agencies cannot expedite results or guarantee your selection as a winner.
  • Only use the official DV website to submit your entry form online.
  • Remember that winning the lottery does not guarantee you will receive a visa.
  • Report any scams or phishing attempts to the proper authorities.

As long as you rely only on the official diversity visa website and notifications sent to you, you can avoid fraud. Federal law provides severe penalties for fraud related to immigration matters.

Statistics and Odds of Winning

Your chances of winning the green card lottery are very small, but tens of thousands do win each year. Here are some statistics on diversity visa lottery outcomes:

  • Around 15 million people submit applications every year.
  • 55,000 applicants are selected through the lottery.
  • Typically around 50,000 visas are issued to lottery winners annually.
  • The odds of winning are less than 1% for most applicants.
  • High school graduates have better odds than applicants without a diploma.
  • Your chances are better if you apply from a country sending fewer applicants.
  • Around 40% of lottery winners are from African nations.
  • Over the history of the program, diversity visas have been issued to people from more than 200 countries.

So while the odds seem daunting, tens of thousands do achieve the dream of winning the green card lottery every year. It remains a popular option for hopeful immigrants from around the globe.


The immigration diversity visa lottery serves as a gateway to life in the United States for up to 50,000 immigrants per year. Winners are randomly selected by computer from a pool of millions of applicants worldwide. The program aims to drive immigration from historically underrepresented countries to enhance the diversity of the U.S. immigrant population.

If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can enter the green card lottery for free during the annual registration period. While the odds of being picked are low, it remains a desirable opportunity for many seeking to immigrate legally to America. Just beware of potential scams, complete all required processing steps if selected, and be prepared for the challenges of relocating your life.