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Guide to the Diversity Visa Lottery Program

The Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Program was established and designed to promote diversity in the United States immigrant population by issuing a limited number of visas each year (usually 55,000) to people from countries with historically low immigration rates. DV Lottery visa recipients are given green cards that entitle them to live and work in the U.S. permanently and may eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. Fortunately, if you win the lottery, you can bring your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 along as derivative beneficiaries. Furthermore, each spouse may submit an entry as long as each one meets the eligibility requirements. 

The process of obtaining a DV visa can be broken down into two distinct phases with their own application procedures and requirements. In the first stage, a random drawing is held to select winners, who are known as "selectees." Selectees must then submit a DS-260 immigrant visa application form and attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. If approved for a visa, they will become "DV Lottery visa recipients" or "DV Lottery visa holders." 

In this guide, we will cover the program's eligibility criteria, offer step-by-step instructions on entering the lottery, provide information on checking your selection status, outline the requirements for your visa application, and discuss the subsequent steps for obtaining your green card and entering the U.S. 

Determine Whether You are Eligible. 

To apply for the DV lottery, you must first determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements, which include nationality, education, and work experience criteria. You must also make sure that you are not disqualified from participating. 

  • Nationality Criteria: Confirm that you were born in an eligible country. Each year, numerous countries are deemed "high admission" and are excluded from the lottery because they have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the past five years. 
  • Minimum Age: Each applicant must be at least 18 years old.
  • Educational and Work Experience: Ensure that you have:
    • a high school education or its equivalent, or 
    • two years of work experience within the past five years in a qualifying profession. 

Pro Tip: You can find more specific information and details on the educational and work requirements here.

  • No Disqualifying Factors: Confirm that you're not inadmissible under U.S. immigration law, which could be due to criminal history, previous immigration violations, or certain other factors.

Submit your Application. 

There is a very limited window each year to submit your application for the Diversity Visa Lottery. While it generally opens towards the beginning of October and closes towards the beginning of November (for example, the entry submission period during the calendar year 2023 began on October 4, 2023, and closes on November 7, 2023). However, the exact dates can vary by year, so it's important that you regularly check the E-DV website for updates well in advance. 

Now before we dive into the specifics of how to apply, there’s a point of potential confusion that bears addressing. When you access the Department of State’s E-DV website, you will see instructions for a year that is two years in advance of the date you access the EDV website. For example, if you log into the website during October 2023, you will see that the program is referred to as DV-2025 and may be worried that you missed the 2023 application window and that there won’t be another chance to apply until two years pass. But this is not the case. 

Essentially, the DV lottery system uses fiscal rather than calendar years. Unlike calendar years, which begin on January 1 and end on December 31, the U.S. federal government employs a fiscal year that starts on October 1 and ends on September 30 of the following (calendar) year. Furthermore, successful applicants will only be allowed to enter the U.S. the year after the one during which they applied. In other words, if you apply for the Diversity Visa in 2023, your application will be labeled “DV-2025.” This is because you're already in the fiscal year 2024 when applying, and after the 2024 processing, successful applicants enter the U.S. during the 2025 fiscal year. 

With that out of the way, we will now discuss how to submit your entry for the lottery. Upon accessing the E-DV website, there will be a link to instructions for filling out Form DS-5501 (also referred to as the “E-DV Entry Form”), and you will be required to enter:

  • Your name, gender, and date of birth.
  • Your marital status.
  • Your city and country of birth.
  • Country of eligibility (usually the same as your country of birth, although there are some very limited exceptions).
  • Photographs of you and, if applicable, your family members.
  • Your current country of residence.
  • Your mailing address, email address, and phone number.
  • Your education level.

Note that there is no fee for entering the DV lottery itself. However, if you are selected, a fee will be required to apply for the actual visa (discussed below).

After completing your entry, you will see a screen with your name and confirmation number. Print and keep a physical copy of this screen. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) stresses the importance of keeping your confirmation page safe, as unscrupulous "visa facilitators" claim to help people with their lottery entries, keep your confirmation page, and then demand more money or illegal activities in exchange for the confirmation number. Without the confirmation number, you will not be able to access the online system that informs you of your entry status.

Verify Your Selection Status

Once you have successfully submitted your application, the next step is to check your selection status. As the DOS will not notify you of your selection status via email or mail, it’s imperative to check your status to ensure you do not miss out on the opportunity to proceed with the visa application process, should you be selected. 

The window for checking your selection status typically opens around May 6 and lasts until September 30 of the year following your entry. For instance, if you entered the lottery in 2023, you may check your status from May 6 to September 30, 2024.

The process for checking your status is as follows: 

  • Visit the E-DV website.
  • Click on the "Check Your Entrant Status" button.
  • Enter your confirmation number along with your last name and year of birth.

Upon checking your status, you will be notified whether you have been selected. If selected, a confirmation page will provide further instructions on the subsequent steps, including details about fees associated with the visa application. If not selected, you may enter the DV lottery again in the following year. 

Apply for a DV Lottery Visa

As mentioned earlier, being selected is only the first hurdle: you still must successfully apply for and be approved for a DV Lottery visa in order to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) and obtain a green card. 

Assuming you are indeed selected, to apply for the visa you must complete a Form DS-260 (Online Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application), in which you will have to enter details such as:

  • Your personal information, such as your full name, date of birth, place of birth, and citizenship.
  • Your passport information, such as the passport number, country of issue, and expiration date.
  • Your contact information, such as your email address and mailing address.
  • Your travel history, such as any countries you have visited in the past five years.
  • Your employment and education history.
  • Your medical history. 
  • A police clearance certificate for the applicant, as well as anyone else included in the application who is over 16 years of age, such as a spouse or eligible dependent.
  • Your family members, both immediate and extended, and if applicable, information regarding your past marital history and spouse(s).
  • If you are sponsoring any family members for immigration, you will need to provide information about them.
  • Your medical history and, if you have any medical conditions, you may need to provide information about your conditions and any medications you are taking.
  • You will need to provide information about your convictions, if any.

Pro Tip: As there have been recent changes regarding document submission requirements, it is advised that you check the travel.state.gov website for the most recent updates. Also note that a visa application fee must be paid separately at the U.S. embassy or consulate rather than upon submitting your DS-260. 

Take Your Medical Exam and Attend the Interview 

After submitting your DS-260 application, if your application has been approved, you will be scheduled for an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Before your interview, you must take a medical exam and receive certain vaccinations. Depending on the country, the results of your medical exam will either be sent directly to the embassy or consulate, or you will receive a sealed packet with the results, which you will have to bring (unopened) along with you to the interview. 

The interview is intended to confirm that you meet all eligibility criteria for the diversity visa, and it will cover your application, background, education, work experience, and immigration plans. Make sure to bring along to your interview the results of your medical exam (if applicable), all required documentation, including a printed copy of your Entrant Status Confirmation page, and your current passport.

Receive Your Visa, Pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee, and Travel to the U.S.

If all goes well at the interview and your visa application is approved, you will receive a sealed packet with your visa and the documents you will need to enter the U.S. Take care not to open the packet, as you will need to present it sealed to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at your point of entry (POE) (note that even if you have a visa, you are not guaranteed entry to the U.S., as the CBP has the ultimate authority to grant or deny your admission). Also, ensure that you pay the USCIS immigrant fee through the USCIS website before your trip. Finally, once you are admitted to the US, you will become an LPR,  which will allow you to live and work permanently in the US. Finally, after five years of permanent residency, you should be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Navigating the Diversity Visa Lottery process can be complex and demands a thorough understanding of the eligibility criteria, application procedures, and subsequent steps toward achieving permanent residency in the U.S. Through AAL’s directory, you can find many skilled attorneys with extensive experience in immigration law who can assist you in not only navigating the DV Lottery process but also in taking the subsequent steps towards permanent residency and, hopefully, full U.S. citizenship as well.

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