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What is the lottery for a green card?

The green card lottery, officially known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, is a United States government program that makes 55,000 permanent resident visas available annually to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. Individuals from qualifying countries can enter the lottery for free and if selected in the random drawing, can apply for permanent residency in the U.S. along with their immediate family members.

What are the requirements to enter the green card lottery?

To enter the green card lottery, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a native of a qualifying country – Countries that have sent over 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the past 5 years do not qualify.
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent or have two years of work experience within the past five years in a job that requires at least two years of training or experience.
  • Complete the online entry form and submit a digital photograph meeting requirements.

There are no requirements for English language skills, job offer, or specific education level (beyond high school). The lottery uses random selection to draw winners.

What countries are eligible for the diversity visa lottery?

Each year the qualifying countries are announced based on their immigration rates. Generally, countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America qualify. Countries with higher levels of immigration like Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines have not been eligible in recent years. Here are the estimated qualifying regions for the 2023 green card lottery:

  • Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone
  • Asia: Iran, Nepal, Uzbekistan
  • Europe: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Russia, Ukraine
  • Oceania: Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu
  • South America, Central America, Caribbean: Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Uruguay

The full list of eligible countries is released each year prior to the start of registration for the lottery.

When can you apply for the diversity visa lottery?

There is a short registration window each year that applicants can submit their entry. The entry period typically runs for about 30 days between early October and early November for the lottery held the following year.

For example, the registration period for the 2023 green card lottery opened on October 6, 2021 and closed on November 9, 2021. Individuals who registered during that window were applying for the chance to get a green card in fiscal year 2023.

The State Department releases notifications on their website and through news releases when registration will open again for the next lottery. There are also many visa service websites that provide updates.

How does the green card lottery selection process work?

The diversity visa lottery uses a computer-generated random selection process to pick winners. Here are the key steps:

  1. Individuals submit entries electronically during the 30 day registration period. There is no cost to submit an entry.
  2. Once registration closes, the lottery computer randomly selects around 100,000-125,000 winners from all qualified entries received.
  3. Selectees are notified of their selection through the Entrant Status Check available starting May of the year following the lottery.
  4. Selectees have a limited window to complete their visa application and submit supporting documents to be issued a visa number. Typically winners have about 4 months to complete processing.
  5. If a selectee completes their documentation on time, they are eligible to receive a diversity visa number. Due to quotas, not all selectees will receive a visa number.

Winners are randomly chosen by the computer, so there are no factors that improve someone’s odds over another applicant like income, education, English skills, etc.

How many winners are selected and receive green cards each year?

Each fiscal year up to 55,000 diversity visas are available. However, because some applicants never complete processing or are found ineligible, the actual number of visas issued is almost always less than 55,000. Here are the diversity visa statistics over the past 5 years:

Fiscal Year Lottery Applicants Winners Selected Visas Issued
2019 14.7 million 125,514 46,733
2020 19.6 million 125,514 46,080
2021 13.7 million 125,514 20,858
2022 11.4 million 125,514 50,088
2023 9.7 million To be determined To be determined

As seen in the table, millions enter each year but only around 50,000 ended up with green cards in recent fiscal years. The odds of winning are extremely low, typically less than 1% due to the volume of applications.

How long do you have to complete visa processing if selected?

There is a limited window for winners to complete all steps of their visa process. Here are the steps and timeframes:

  1. Win Confirmation: May of the year following the lottery registration
    Winners are notified and must confirm their selection on the Entrant Status Check website.
  2. Documents Submitted: 4-6 months after win confirmation
    Once confirmed, winners have about 4 months to submit their visa application, photograph, and civil documents.
  3. Interview Scheduled: 6-12 months after forms submitted
    After paperwork is processed, winners are contacted to schedule a visa interview at their local U.S. consulate.
  4. Visa Interview: 6-12 months after forms submitted
    Winners attend their visa interview. Medical exams and other screening also takes place.
  5. Visa Issued: September 30 of fiscal year
    If approved, winners are issued their diversity visa by the program deadline of Sept. 30.

The entire process from initial selection to visa issuance can take up to 2 years. But because of the strict timelines, applicants must stay on top of the paperwork and respond quickly to any requests to avoid disqualification.

Can winners include family on their green card application?

Yes, winning the green card lottery extends to immediate family members as well. The spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old can be included on the original entry form and apply together.

If an applicant wins and is unmarried at the time of entry, they can later add a spouse or children if they get married or have kids after applying but before getting their visa. Other extended family must apply for their own visas separately.

How much does it cost to apply for the diversity visa lottery?

There is no fee charged by the U.S. government to submit the lottery entry form. The online form is free to fill out.

If someone wins the lottery, they will incur fees as part of the standard immigrant visa application process. This includes:

  • $330 visa application fee
  • $220 diversity visa lottery surcharge
  • Medical exam fees
  • Visa photograph fees
  • Document translation fees, if applicable

Total costs for someone applying from overseas often run $1,000-$2,000 including paperwork, translations, the visa interview, medical exams, and travel to the consulate.

Can someone apply again if they aren’t selected?

Yes, there is no limit to how many years someone can continue applying for the green card lottery if they are not selected. However, individuals can only submit one entry per fiscal year.

Some people apply year after year before finally being selected. Persistence and luck play a role in eventually winning the lottery.

Are there scams associated with the green card lottery?

Unfortunately, there are many scams related to the green card lottery. Common scams include:

  • Fake submission services: Scammers set up websites offering to help submit lottery entries for a fee. But no 3rd party submission is allowed.
  • Early notification: Scammers send emails before May claiming someone won and demanding fees to process the win. Official notification only comes in May from the State Department.
  • Document payment requests: Scammers pretending to work for the government ask winners to send money for fake fees or taxes to process paperwork.

Keep in mind:

  • There are no fees to submit the online lottery entry form.
  • Winners are notified through the official Entrant Status Check website only.
  • Official communication will come from State Department email addresses (.gov) or through U.S. embassies.

Any other organization claiming lottery involvement or requesting payments is fraudulent. Report scams to the FTC.

Does a diversity visa winner get permanent U.S. residence immediately?

Winning the lottery does not automatically or immediately grant U.S. permanent residence. Even after being selected, diversity visa applicants must still successfully complete all documentation, security checks, and interviews required for an immigration visa.

Once issued the visa, the winner must enter the U.S. within 6 months. Upon arrival, the visa holder and their family members become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and can then live and work permanently in the United States.

Can the spouse of a diversity visa winner work in the U.S.?

Yes, the spouse and children under 21 of someone who immigrates via the diversity visa program can obtain work authorization as permanent residents once admitted to the U.S.

To obtain a green card, the spouse and children must have been listed on the original lottery application. If an applicant marries after submitting their entry, the new spouse can still apply for a visa if the marriage occurred before the visa was issued.

Do diversity visa winners qualify for government benefits?

Diversity visa immigrants qualify for the same benefits as other lawful permanent residents. This includes:

  • Obtaining a Social Security Number and card
  • Qualifying for Supplemental Security Income and Medicare after meeting eligibility requirements
  • Obtaining a U.S. passport
  • Sponsoring family members still overseas to immigrate to the U.S.
  • Applying for U.S. citizenship after meeting residency requirements

Green card holders must wait 5 years before qualifying for certain federal benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and cash assistance. Some states provide benefits regardless of immigration status.

Are diversity visa winners eligible for a tax identification number?

Yes, once issued a visa packet, diversity visa immigrants can apply for a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) through the IRS while their green card application is being processed. The TIN allows them to work, open bank accounts, and complete other tasks using a tax ID number before having a Social Security number.

Can diversity visa winners renew or extend their green cards?

Diversity visa immigrants receive unconditional permanent resident status from the start, so they do not need to renew their green cards after 2 years like other visa categories. Their 10-year green card is valid from the date it is issued.

However, at the end of the 10 year validity period, diversity visa holders must renew their green cards just like any other permanent resident. They will need to file Form I-90 to renew their green card for another 10 years.

Do diversity visa winners qualify for a mortgage or loan?

It is possible for diversity visa immigrants to qualify for mortgages and other loans in the U.S. However, it can be challenging for new immigrants with no U.S. credit history to get approved. Steps they can take include:

  • Building credit – Open U.S. bank accounts and credit cards to start establishing good credit.
  • Use an eligible co-signer – Add a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with good credit as a co-borrower.
  • Make a large down payment – Lenders may offer better rates and terms with a 30-50% down payment.
  • Use a local lender – Community banks and credit unions may be more flexible than large national lenders.

While qualifying for a mortgage as a new resident takes patience and effort, home ownership is an achievable goal for diversity visa immigrants through careful financial planning.

Can winning the green card lottery be denied or revoked?

Yes, there are cases when a diversity visa can be denied or revoked including:

  • Fraud: Providing false or fraudulent information on the lottery entry or visa application.
  • Ineligibility: Winning through error but actually being born in an ineligible country.
  • Criminal Issues: Having a criminal record, security risks, communicable diseases, or other factors making someone inadmissible.
  • Expired Case: Failing to complete visa processing within the strict time limits.
  • Visa Quota Met: If the annual visa quota is met before someone’s turn.

Denials can happen during the initial visa screening or later at the visa interview. Reasons for revoking a visa after issuance include fraud, criminal acts, or changed country conditions.

Can someone try for other U.S. visas if they lose the lottery?

Yes, losing the green card lottery or having one’s visa denied does not prevent someone from applying for other U.S. visa categories. Some common options include:

  • Employment-based visas – For workers with in-demand skills being sponsored by a U.S. employer.
  • Family-based visas – For those with an eligible U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative.
  • Refugee/Asylee – For those facing persecution or threats in their home country.
  • Student visas – For acceptance and enrollment in a U.S. university or college.

Trying the green card lottery year after year does not hurt one’s chances for other U.S. visas. Losing the lottery simply comes down to bad luck.


The green card lottery offers a unique opportunity for millions around the world every year to legally immigrate to the United States. While the odds of being selected are very low, winning the lottery can lead to life-changing opportunities. Applicants from eligible countries who meet the education or work experience requirements have nothing to lose by submitting a free entry. Just beware of potential scams and follow the official rules and procedures if selected. With persistence and a bit of luck, you could have a chance at the American dream through the diversity visa lottery.