Diversity Visa Program
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: May 9, 2022
The Diversity Visa (DV) Program 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. Most applicants need to have a valid, unexpired passport from their home country in order to apply. For more information on eligibility for the DV Program, please see the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) informational page on the DV Program.
The DOS updates the list of countries excluded from the DV Program every year. You should always refer to DOS’ instructions for the DV program to check whether you are from an eligible country or whether your country has been excluded. You can find the instructions here.
You should consult with a qualified immigration attorney for an update about possible eligibility.
If you are a “native” of an excluded country, you cannot apply for the Diversity Visa Program. 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 Program 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 Program lottery may be able to consular process if they first apply for and receive a provisional waiver of unlawful presence.
The DV Program is not an amnesty program. If you are undocumented and you receive a notice from DOS that you have won the DV Program 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 Program. 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 Program 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 https://dvprogram.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 and the DV Program instructions 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.
DOS specifies a time period within which you must apply for the DV Program. You can check the time period for the DV Program at DOS’ website. 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.
The decision to hire a representative, pay a fee, or use an online service to file for the DV Program 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 Program application are not reputable and are not necessary. The online DV Program 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 Program 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. You should be able to check the status of your entry by using the Entrant Status Check tool on https://dvprogram.state.gov/. In order to check your status, you will need the confirmation number you were given when you applied, your last/family name, and your year of birth. If you are selected in the DV Program lottery you are entitled to apply for a diversity visa. However, there are strict time limits within which you have to submit your application. 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.