The US State Department conducts an annual Diversity Visa Lottery--also called a “green card lottery"--which awards eligible people the chance to receive one of 50,000 immigrant visas distributed through the program each year. Winning the lottery is not a guarantee that you’ll receive a green card, but if you act quickly you may have a good chance of becoming a permanent US resident.
There are two basic requirements to qualify for the lottery.
You must have been born in a country deemed eligible in the year for which you are applying. The State Department releases a new list each year. Eligible countries typically have low rates of immigration to the US, defined as sending fewer than 50,000 immigrants to the US over the previous five years. Certain countries are almost always either eligible or ineligible, while other countries rotate on and off the list, depending on recent immigration trends.
Applicants must have either:
Qualifying for the lottery is not the same as qualifying for a visa. Even if you win the lottery, you will still need to actually apply for your visa and meet all immigration eligibility requirements according to US law. There are more lottery winners than available visas, to account for applicants who change their mind or prove ineligible for a visa. Be prepared to act quickly if you are a winner.
The lottery application form must be submitted online through the State Department’s E-DV Web site, and is only accessible during the application window, which runs for about two months each year, generally in the October to November timeframe. You may apply only once, and multiple applications will result in all your applications being removed from consideration. Eligible spouses may both apply and the “winner" can bring the “loser" with to the US. You will have to answer several questions and submit recent photographs of yourself, your spouse and all unmarried children under age 21, even if they will not be accompanying you to the US. Photos must meet strict specifications, as detailed in the DV Lottery Instructions. An application without the appropriate photos will be considered incomplete, and you will need to resubmit it. If the system accepts your application and photos, a confirmation screen will appear with a confirmation number that you should save. Winners will be notified by mail between May and July of the following year. Applicants not selected, will not be notified, but all applicants can check their status at the E-DV Web site starting in July, using the confirmation number from their original application. Lottery winners will receive instructions on how to proceed, including an interview appointment letter. Your spouse and any unmarried children under age 21 may immigrate with you, but all visas must be issued within the appropriate fiscal year (October 1 through September 30). If you miss that deadline, you will not receive a visa. You can complete the entire process yourself, but if you feel you need help, contact an experienced immigration attorney. You should seek help only to ensure you complete the application properly, not to improve your chances of winning, which nobody can do.