Diversity Visa Lottery

The information contained herein is for reference only and may not be up to date. It does not constitute legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your matter.

Last updated: June 3, 2020

The Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery makes 55,000 legal permanent resident (green card) visas available to nationals of countries which the U.S. considers to be under-represented in U.S. immigration. Anyone who is not from an excluded country can apply, whether they are currently residing outside the U.S. or inside the U.S. though some restrictions apply.

To qualify, an applicant must come from an eligible country, have either (1) a high school diploma, or (2) two years of work experience within the last five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training. The applicant must also be otherwise admissible to the U.S. Note: For the DV-2021 program a new rule has been instituted that requires an applicant to have a valid, unexpired passport from their home country in order to apply.

For DV-2021, natives of the following countries are not eligible to apply, because more than 50,000 natives of these countries immigrated to the United States in the previous five years:

Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.

Note: President Trump’s Muslim Ban Number 1 & Ban Number 2 have made natives of additional countries ineligible to apply for the DV lottery. You should consult with a qualified immigration attorney for an update about possible eligibility.

Note Also: Persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.

If you are a “native” of an excluded country, you cannot apply for the diversity visa lottery. Generally, a person is considered a “native” of the country in which they were born. There are some exceptions to this rule, so if you are not certain if you qualify, you should contact an attorney.

Under current law, a person who is in the U.S. without lawful immigration status who wins the DV lottery will not be permitted to apply for their residence from within the U.S. (adjust status) unless they had some other legal permanent residence visa petition (family or employment based) filed before April 30, 2001. A person without lawful immigration status who wins the DV lottery may be able to consular process if they first apply for and receive a provisional waiver of unlawful presence.

The DV lottery program is not an amnesty program. If you are undocumented and you receive a notice from DOS that you have won the DV lottery, the notice will instruct you to return to your country for processing. If you follow these instructions and leave the U.S., without first obtaining the provisional waiver for unlawful presence, you will almost certainly not be allowed to return. Additionally, even if you do obtain the provisional waiver, there is a risk that you may be deemed “inadmissible” to the U.S. for other reasons. Under current immigration law, anyone who has been in the U.S. without lawful status for more than 180 days, but less than a year, will be prohibited from returning to the U.S. for three years if he or she leaves. Anyone who has been in the U.S. without lawful status for more than one year will be prohibited from returning for ten years if he or she leaves.

If you are undocumented in the United States, you should consult with a qualified immigration attorney before applying for the DV lottery. There is a much greater risk for undocumented people to apply now that information is gathered electronically than there was in the past when the lottery was done through paper submissions. The Department of State has said that they will use this information as part of its fight against terrorism, though it is not clear whether the information will be used against undocumented immigrants.

It is important to note that the Department of State will only accept applications that are electronically filed at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov along with digital photographs. Applicants are strongly encouraged not to wait until the last week of the registration period to enter. There is currently no fee at the time the electronic application is filled out. Please check the Department of State website for any updates to the fee and other requirements. Please also note that the U.S. Government employs no outside consultants or private services to operate the DV program.

For the current DV lottery (DV-2021), online registration ran from 12:00 pm (noon), Eastern Daylight Time (GMT-4), Wednesday, October 2, 2019 until 12:00 pm (noon), Eastern Standard Time (GMT-5), Tuesday November 5, 2019. If you entered before Wednesday, October 2, 2019, that entry will not be considered, and you will need to submit another entry during the new registration period. Each person may only submit one entry during each registration period.  Individuals who submit more than one entry during a registration period will be disqualified.

Applications must be submitted online at www.dvlottery.state.gov. English instructions for the 2021 lottery are here. There are several translations available here.

The decision to hire a representative, pay a fee, or use an online service to file for the DV lottery should be taken only after thinking through the options. Note however, that most websites or services that offer to help applicants fill out their DV lottery application are not reputable and are not necessary. The online DV lottery application is very simple, and requires no fee. However, there are some reputable non-profit organizations who assist people who would not otherwise have access to computers to file their applications. These services should be free or very low cost.

You can find more information on the DV lottery application process at the Department of State website.

After the close of the registration period, a government computer will select at random individuals from among all qualified entries. Starting on May 5, 2020, you should be able to check the status of your entry by going to www.dvlottery.state.gov, clicking on Entrant Status Check and entering the confirmation number you were given when you applied. Entrant Status Check will be available on the E-DV website  through at least September 30, 2021. If you are selected in the DV 2021 program you are entitled to apply for a diversity visa. However, you may only do so during U.S. government fiscal year 2021, which is from October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021. All selected and eligible applicants must obtain their visas or adjust status by September 30, 2021. The Department of State will not approve any visa numbers or adjustment of status for the DV-2021 program after midnight EDT on September 30, 2021, under any circumstances. It is therefore extremely important that as soon as you learn that you have been selected you act quickly to follow the requisite instructions to obtain your visa.

The information contained herein is for reference only and may not be up to date. It does not constitute legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your matter.

This handbook is intended for use by pro bono attorneys and immigration attorneys working on LGBTQ/HIV asylum cases.