Written by Avvo Staff

How the green card lottery works

An outline of the process

The Diversity Visa program, also known as the green card lottery, is designed to diversify the pool of immigrants to the United States. Residents of countries with low rates of immigration to the US are given an opportunity to apply for a green card if they are selected and meet certain requirements. Here is how the process and an outline of the steps you need to apply.

Can I apply for the green card lottery?

There are 2 factors that determine whether you can apply: Birth in an eligible country and a qualifying work or educational background. The State Department issues a list of eligible countries each year based on rates of immigration over the previous 5 years.

You can meet the education and work requirements if you have completed 12 years of schooling (a GED-type program does not qualify), or you have at least 2 years of work experience in a job that required a minimum of 2 years of specialized vocational training within the previous 5 years. You must also prove that you meet the requirements for green card eligibility.

You can still apply for the green card lottery even if you are pursuing a green card through other immigration options.

What is the green card lottery application process?

You'll have to act quickly once you've determined you're eligible; the application window is typically about 6 to 8 weeks in October and November, and you must submit your application prior to the green card lottery deadline. Applications are completed online and must be accompanied by photos that meet State Department requirements.

Once your application is successfully submitted, print the confirmation page; you'll need the confirmation number later to track the results because the State Department will not contact you to tell you if you've been selected. The lottery website contains information about when results will be available. Beware of scams and fraud. The State Department will never ask you to wire money or mail a check as part of the green card lottery application process.

What happens if I am selected?

When you get your selection results on the State Department website, you'll receive instructions about what to do next. Act quickly if you are selected; you have to apply for and obtain your green card by the end of the year during which you applied.

If you live outside the country and are selected for the Diversity Visa program, your first step is to complete an interview at a US consulate or embassy. Again, act quickly: While there are 50,000 visas available, the State Department actually selects 125,000 applicants, since a large number will not meet green card eligibility requirements.

Before your interview, assemble the required documents, which include a complete medical examination and vaccination record for each family member, birth and marriage certificates, and police and court records. You'll also need to pay a fee of $330 for each person being interviewed. You will be notified after the interview if your application is approved or denied.

If you are currently legally residing in the US and are selected for the green card lottery, the process is slightly different. Your application is handled through the US Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) and begins with completing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Your application will not be accepted if there is not an immigrant visa available at the time you apply, however, and you must also meet all the requirements for admissibility or obtain a waiver to prove that you have grounds.

While the initial process of applying for the US green card lottery is fairly straightforward, actually qualifying for and obtaining your green card is not guaranteed if you win. Since time is of the essence if you are selected, seek help from an attorney with an immigration practice area if you have any questions or concerns about completing your application.

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