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Is there a visa lottery for USA?

The visa lottery, also known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, is a program run by the U.S. Department of State that allows a limited number of people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States to obtain permanent resident visas through a lottery system. The visa lottery aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States by selecting applicants mostly from countries with fewer than 50,000 immigrants admitted to the U.S. over the previous five years.

Overview of the Visa Lottery Program

The visa lottery program makes up to 50,000 permanent resident visas available each year to people who meet simple but strict eligibility requirements. Applicants for the visa lottery must be natives of countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. Most visa lottery winners come from Africa and Europe. Visas are distributed among six geographic regions with no single country receiving more than 7% of the available Diversity Visas in one year.

To be eligible for the visa lottery, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a native of a qualifying country – Countries whose natives are eligible depend on the specific year. Natives of countries with high levels of immigration to the U.S. over the previous five years are ineligible.
  • Have a high school education or equivalent or have two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training.
  • Have no criminal record.
  • Meet health and character requirements.

Winners of the visa lottery are granted permanent resident status in the United States, known as a green card, which allows them to live and work anywhere in the country. Lottery winners can also sponsor family members to immigrate after becoming permanent residents.

The visa lottery is open for one month each year, usually in October, and applicants enter by submitting an electronic registration form online. There is no cost to register for the visa lottery. The Department of State randomly selects applicants and notifies lottery winners the following year. Winning the visa lottery does not guarantee being issued an immigrant visa as winners must still meet eligibility requirements when applying at a U.S. consulate. Around 100,000 applicants are selected each year, but only around 50% ultimately qualify for visas.

History of the Visa Lottery Program

The visa lottery originated with the Immigration Act of 1990 which created the program to stimulate immigration from underrepresented nations. The first visa lottery took place in 1995. Since its inception, over one million immigrant visas have been issued through the diversity visa program.

When it began, the visa lottery made 40,000 visas available each year to applicants from countries with low admissions over the previous five years. The number of available visas was later increased to 50,000. In 2003, around 8 million people registered for the visa lottery. The popularity caused long delays in processing and issuing visas to winners. In response, the program rules were changed to only allow natives and select family members of qualifying countries to apply. The photographic requirements were also introduced.

The Early 1990s:
– The Immigration Act of 1990 created the visa lottery program to promote diversity among immigrant populations.
– The first visa lottery took place in fiscal year 1995 with 40,000 visas available.

The Late 1990s:
– Millions of people started applying for the visa lottery each year in the late 1990s, causing processing delays.
– Only natives of qualifying countries were allowed to apply starting in 1999.

The 2000s:
– The available visas increased to 50,000 in fiscal year 2001.
– Photograph requirements were added in 2003 to reduce duplicate applications.
– Over 8 million people registered for the 2005 visa lottery, but only 50,000 were selected.

Recent Years:
– Online registration and digital photos were required starting in 2011 to modernize the program.
– President Trump supported eliminating the visa lottery program in immigration reforms.
– Litigation over the visa lottery bans focused on the fairness of randomized selection processes.

The visa lottery program has gone through many changes over the past 25+ years to improve efficiency, prevent fraud, and promote fairness while still achieving the goals of increasing diversity.

Requirements for Applying

Applying for the diversity visa lottery is straightforward but requires meeting specific eligibility criteria. The visa lottery has strict requirements regarding country of origin, education or work experience, and other qualifications.

To be eligible for the visa lottery, you must:

  • Be a native of one of the qualifying countries – The list of eligible birth countries changes each year based on visa admission rates over the prior five years. Countries with high immigration levels become ineligible.
  • Have a high school diploma or two years of qualifying work experience – Work experience must be within the past five years in a position requiring at least two years of training or experience.
  • Submit recent photographs – Digital photos of yourself, spouse, and all children listed on the entry must meet composition and technical specifications.
  • Have no disqualifying factors – You must have no criminal record or other health and character factors making you inadmissible to the United States.

Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old can be included on lottery applications. The principal applicant must submit the entry, but dependents do not need to meet the education or work requirements. Dependents must be from an eligible country and meet other standards.

If you meet these few requirements, you can enter the visa lottery online during the registration period by submitting a form with required photos. There is no application fee. Applicants who are selected in the lottery are notified by letter around one year later.

Visa Lottery Registration Process

Registering for the diversity visa lottery is free and done electronically during the open registration period each year. Here are the steps for completing the online visa lottery application:

  1. Check you meet the eligibility requirements – Confirm your birth country qualifies and you meet education/work and other standards.
  2. Get digital photos – Have compliant digital photos taken of yourself, spouse, and all children listed on your entry.
  3. Submit the online form – Fill out the registration with basic biographic information during open registration.
  4. Include family – If married, include your spouse. Unmarried children under 21 can also be included.
  5. Submit your entry – Your lottery entry must be submitted online during the registration period.
  6. Check for confirmation – You should receive a confirmation number once registration is complete.
  7. Check the results – Find out if you were selected the following year when lottery results are released.

The registration period usually opens in early October and lasts for about 30 days. Once registration closes, no more entries can be accepted. The millions of entries received are randomly selected through computer software. Around 100,000 applicants are chosen and notified the following year.

Being selected in the lottery does not guarantee you will receive a visa. Winners still have to complete a formal visa application, submit supporting documents, complete an interview, and be approved to receive a green card. The whole process can take up to two years after initial selection.

Chances of Being Selected

Each year millions of people around the world register for the visa lottery hoping to be among the lucky few selected. But with only 50,000 visas available, the odds of winning the diversity visa lottery are extremely low.

Your chances of being picked depend on several key factors:

  • Number of entries – The more people that register from your country, the lower your odds of selection.
  • Country of birth – Applicants from countries with fewer winners historically have better odds.
  • Number of family members – Including a spouse and children on your entry reduces the chances for selection.
  • Prior applications – Applicants can enter each year but cannot be selected twice.

On average, around 15 million people register each fiscal year for the 50,000 available diversity visas. This puts the odds of selection at less than 1% for any given applicant. But odds can vary significantly between applicants:

  • Single applicant from Botswana – 1 in 100 chance
  • Applicant from Canada with spouse and child – 1 in 2,000 chance
  • Applicant from Mexico with family of 5 – 1 in 20,000 chance

The best chances go to applicants from developing countries with smaller populations entering the lottery. Odds are much longer for people from countries with high levels of immigration or larger populations. But while odds of winning are extremely low, it remains possible if you continue to enter year after year.

Benefits of Winning the Visa Lottery

Very few people actually win the green card lottery each year considering the millions of entries received. But if you are lucky enough to be one of the roughly 50,000 people randomly selected, there are some excellent benefits:

  • Opportunity to immigrate legally to the U.S. – The visa lottery offers the chance to obtain a green card you may not have through other programs.
  • Pathway to U.S. citizenship – Green card holders can pursue naturalization to become U.S. citizens after meeting eligibility rules.
  • Ability to sponsor family – After getting a green card through the lottery, you can sponsor family members to also immigrate.
  • Live and work permanently – Green card holders have permanent residency and can live and work anywhere in the country.

For applicants from developing countries with few other options for legal immigration, the visa lottery presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change your life. Other benefits include gaining voting rights, traveling freely, and accessing certain welfare or retirement benefits after meeting requirements for these privileges.

Winning the green card lottery accelerates the process of immigrating to the U.S. that might take years through other visa programs. Getting a diversity visa saves you time and difficulty of finding an employer or family member to sponsor your immigration application.

Potential Issues and Challenges

Despite the incredible benefits, there are also some potential challenges to be aware of if you win the diversity visa lottery:

  • High demand for green cards – Tens of thousands more people win the lottery than actually receive visas. You have to proceed quickly through the process when selected.
  • Expiration deadlines – You must obtain your diversity visa by the end of the fiscal year you were selected in or lose your eligibility.
  • Finding employment – You may need to find a job within 90 days of entering the U.S. to provide financial support.
  • Cultural adjustments – Moving permanently to the U.S. can involve major cultural, social, and language changes.
  • Proving education and work history – Educational and employment documentation must be provided from your home country.

Being selected in the lottery does not guarantee you will receive a green card. You still must meet eligibility criteria, obtain medical exams, prove education or work experience, and attend a visa interview. The entire process can take over a year meaning you need to act quickly before deadlines expire.

Despite challenges, the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. and become a permanent resident is worth the effort for most diversity visa lottery winners. Careful planning and prompt action following selection can help you avoid potential pitfalls of the process.

Steps After Being Selected

The visa lottery process continues even after you are selected randomly through the lottery. Being picked only means you can now apply for one of the limited diversity visas. There are additional steps required to obtain your green card:

  1. Submit your DS-260 application – This provides biographic and eligibility information to the State Department.
  2. Get financial support – Having adequate financial resources simplifies the visa process.
  3. Obtain required documents – Have educational, police, and court records ready to submit.
  4. Complete medical exam – An approved doctor must submit your visa medical examination results.
  5. Attend visa interview – You will need to travel to the designated U.S. embassy or consulate for your interview.
  6. Enter the U.S. – Once approved, you will be given a travel validity period during which you must enter the country.
  7. Apply for a Green Card – File Form I-485 once you arrive to get your actual permanent resident card.

This lengthy process must be completed within the fiscal year you were selected or you lose your diversity visa eligibility. Processing times vary between consulates so you need to act promptly. Successful applicants receive their green cards within 6 months of arriving in the U.S.

Visa Lottery Scams

Unfortunately, many visa lottery scams exist seeking to take advantage of people’s desire to immigrate to the United States. Lottery scammers try to trick people into sending money to improve their odds or expedite processing. However, there are no shortcuts or tricks to winning the visa lottery. Here are some common green card lottery scams:

  • Fake registration services that “increase” your odds of winning.
  • Companies that “pre-select” you before the lottery occurs.
  • “Registration agents” who claim inside connections with the program.
  • Services to prepare paperwork and appointments for an extra fee.
  • Lottery “win” letters sent to solicit money or information from victims.

All services claiming they can improve your chances of being selected in the lottery are scams. The visa lottery uses complete random selection that cannot be influenced or predetermined. There are no early notifications or ways to expedite the process before being contacted through official channels.

Avoid paying anyone to enter the visa lottery on your behalf or to represent you in the application process. The only legitimate way to register is through the free government website during the annual registration period. If selected, no additional action is required until the State Department contacts you directly.

Visa Lottery FAQs

Is there an application fee for the visa lottery?

No, there is never a fee to submit the online lottery entry form on the official government website. Only scammers will ask you to pay to sign up for the visa lottery.

Can someone else enter the lottery on my behalf?

No. The State Department requires anyone submitting a diversity visa entry to do so themselves. Each applicant must register during the open period using the official online form.

How are visa lottery winners selected?

Lottery entries are randomly selected through computer software. The selection process does not consider applicant characteristics beyond verifying the entry is complete. Selection is not affected by order of registration or number of family members.

Can I improve my chances of being selected?

There are no ways to influence selection or increase your odds of winning. Lottery entries are chosen at random by a computer program. Multiple family members and submitting early do not affect your chances.

How long does it take to get a green card after being selected?

It typically takes at least 6-12 months after selection to complete all steps and be issued a visa. The whole process must be finished before the end of the fiscal year of selection or you lose eligibility. Expedited processing is not possible.

What are the educational requirements for the visa lottery?

You must have either a high school education or its equivalent. This means 12 years of elementary and secondary education. Or you can substitute two years of work experience in select occupations within the past five years.

Can I apply for the lottery again if I wasn’t selected?

Yes, you can enter the diversity visa lottery each year as long as you continue to meet the eligibility requirements. You can keep applying annually, though you can only be selected once in your lifetime.

What happens if I win the lottery but cannot get a visa in time?

Unfortunately, you will lose your eligibility if you do not obtain your diversity visa by the end of the fiscal year you were selected. The process cannot be extended beyond the expiration date in September.


The diversity visa lottery run by the State Department offers the chance for around 50,000 people worldwide to immigrate permanently to the United States each year. Citizens from countries with historically low levels of immigration to the U.S. are eligible to enter this random selection process. Winning the green card lottery provides opportunities to obtain permanent resident status you may not have through other visa programs.

While millions of people apply annually, only about 1% are chosen through the computer-randomized system. This makes for very low odds of selection for any given applicant. If you are lucky enough to be picked, you must then complete the full visa application process within a limited timeframe. There are unfortunately many visa lottery scams seeking to take advantage of applicants’ desire to win the lottery and immigrate. But overall, the diversity visa program achieves its aims of diversifying the immigrant population in the U.S. through a fair and randomized system.