The Diversity Visa allows persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. to become lawful permanent residents – if they win the DV lottery and successfully complete the immigrant visa or green card process.
Most DV lottery winners live outside the United States and immigrate to the U.S. by obtaining the visa at their U.S. Consulate. When they land in the U.S., the customs officer endorses their visa, which serves as temporary evidence of their permanent residence. The green card is mailed to them in a few weeks at their U.S. address. A smaller number of DV lottery winners are already in the U.S. in nonimmigrant or other lawful status. They file for DV-based adjustment of status with USCIS and, if approved, are mailed a welcome notice and then their green card.
How many Diversity Visas are available each year?
Starting on October 1 of each year, the U.S. State Department administers the DV Lottery to provide diversity immigrant visas to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. in the last five years. Diversity visas are distributed among six geographic regions and no single country may receive more than seven percent of the available DVs in any one year.
When to Enter
Entries for the Diversity Visa Lottery must be submitted electronically between 12 pm (Eastern Time) in early October and 12 pm (Eastern Time) in early November of the fiscal year, as specified at the U.S. State Department website: https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/. Register early to avoid system delays in the last days of the entry period.
Who Can Enter
Applicants are selected through a randomized computer drawing. They must meet simple, but strict, eligibility requirements to qualify for a diversity visa.
Requirement #1: Applicant must be born in an eligible country (with two exceptions).
Countries with more than 50,000 natives immigrating to the U.S. in the previous five years are ineligible. Natives of some countries do not qualify. For example, natives of all countries except the following may apply for DV-2017:
Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.
Persons who are ineligible due to their country of birth may be able to qualify if:
- Their spouse was born in an eligible country. They could claim the country of birth of their spouse.
- They were born in an ineligible country in which neither of their parents was born or legally resided at the time of their birth. They could claim the country of birth of one of their parents if it is a country whose natives are eligible for the DV.
Requirement #2: Applicant must have the necessary education or work experience.
Applicants must have either:
- At least a high school education or its equivalent, defined as successful completion of a 12-year course of formal elementary and secondary education; OR
- Two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience to perform the job.
How to Enter
There is no cost to register for the DV lottery. DV applicants must submit an online Electronic Diversity Visa Entry Form (E-DV Entry Form or DS-5501) and a digital photograph at www.dvlottery.state.gov by 12 pm Eastern Time on the November due date.
Failure to list your eligible spouse will result in your disqualification as the DV principal applicant and refusal of all visa applications in your case at the time of the visa interview. You must list your spouse even if you plan to be divorced before you apply for a visa. A spouse who is already a U.S. citizen or LPR will not require or be issued a visa, but you will not be penalized if you list them on your entry form.
Failure to list all your eligible children will result in your disqualification as the DV principal applicant and refusal of all visa applications in the case at the time of the visa interview. Eligible children include:
- all living natural children;
- all living children legally adopted by you; and,
- all living step-children who are unmarried and under the age of 21 on the date of your entry, even if you are no longer legally married to the child’s parent, and even if the child does not currently reside with you and/or will not immigrate with you.
Married children and children who are aged 21 or older when you submit your entry are not eligible for the DV program. However, the Child Status Protection Act protects children from “aging out” in certain circumstances. If your DV entry is made before your unmarried child turns 21, and the child turns 21 before visa issuance, he/she may be treated as though he/she were under 21 for visa-processing purposes. A child who is already a U.S. citizen or LPR is not eligible for a Diversity Visa; you will not be penalized for including or omitting them from your entry.
Incomplete entries will not be accepted. No late entries or paper entries will be accepted.
Each person is allowed only one entry. Multiple entries on behalf of one person will all be disqualified.
After you submit a complete entry, you will see a confirmation screen containing your name and a unique confirmation number. Print this confirmation screen for your records.
The Department of State issues the complete instructions each year. The instructions for the 2017 Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV-2017) are available here.
How to Obtain a Diversity Immigrant Visa
Entering the DV Lottery is just the first step to becoming a diversity immigrant. You also need to be selected and obtain an immigrant visa (if you are outside the U.S.) or adjustment of status (if you are in the U.S.) by the end of the fiscal year (e.g. September 30, 2017 for the DV-2017 program).
From May 3, 2016 through September 30, 2017, 2017 DV Lottery entrants will need to visit www.dvlottery.state.gov, click on the Entrant Status Check link, and enter their confirmation number and personal information to check the status of their entry. You must use Entrant Status Check to confirm if you have been selected for the DV lottery and to check your immigrant visa interview appointment date. The U.S. government will not inform you directly.
Entrants who are selected may apply for permanent residence in the fiscal year, which is October 1 through September 30. The earliest they may apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate (if they are outside the U.S.) or adjustment of status before USCIS (if they are in the U.S.) is October 1.They must also obtain their immigrant visa or adjustment of status by September 30, the end of the fiscal year.
No diversity visas can be issued and no DV-based adjustments can be approved after September 30th. Family members also may not obtain DVs to follow-to-join the principal applicant in the United States after this date.
Although there is no DV registration fee, consular processing or adjustment of status processing fees apply. Moreover, applying for the visa at the U.S. Consulate or filing for adjustment at USCIS is more complicated than entering the lottery.
Being selected in the DV lottery doesn’t guarantee you will get the visa or green card. There are more lottery winners than there are actual visas available. When an allocation cut-off number is shown in the State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin, visas are available only for applicants with DV regional lottery rank numbers BELOW the specified allocation cut-off number.
Keep in mind that if you apply for DV-based adjustment of status or a diversity immigrant visa, you are showing you have immigrant intent. So if you do not get the green card or diversity visa, you will face challenges qualifying for a B-2 visitor visa, F-1 student visa, or other visas that require nonimmigrant intent.
Police clearances and background checks are part of the process, which can cause delays. Diversity immigrant visa applicants must provide police clearance certificates from every country, except the U.S., where they have resided since age 16. Adjustment of status applicants do not have to submit police clearances, but they still need to get their biometrics taken and pass the FBI background check.
Plus, a DV applicant may be inadmissible to the U.S. for criminal-related reasons, prior immigration violations (e.g. falling out of status, accruing unlawful presence in the U.S. or being ordered removed from the U.S.), or other factors. Inadmissibility means you are prohibited from entering the U.S. under federal immigration law.
If you are inadmissible to the U.S., you must obtain a waiver by filing a Form I-601 or Form I-212 before you may receive the diversity visa or DV-based adjustment. You would have to meet the strict eligibility requirements for these waivers. And for some grounds of inadmissibility, there is no waiver available. On average, it takes 6 to 12 months to receive a decision on a waiver request.
If an inadmissibility bar applies to you, you should consult an immigration attorney to determine whether you qualify for a waiver to receive the visa or adjustment to permanent residence. An experienced attorney can help you prepare a strong waiver application and request an expedited approval to meet the September 30th deadline.
Even if you don’t need a waiver, an immigration attorney can also help you prepare the immigrant visa or adjustment application properly, and avoid unnecessary delays and missteps.
This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.
Photo by: JeanbaptiseM