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U.S. Diversity Visa "Lottery"

Background Information

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act included an annual Permanent Resident "Green Card" lottery that natives of certain countries may enter. The countries whose natives are eligible to participate are those that have generated a relatively low number of U.S. immigrants during the past five years. A total of 50,000 permanent Visas may be issued in a fiscal year to selected natives of these qualifying countries. If selected, winners must demonstrate that they have either a high school education or its equivalent or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience. Such applicants also must not fall within one of the several grounds of inadmissibility.

This memorandum summarizes the major characteristics of the Diversity Lottery, but does not explain the precise mechanics for entering the lottery and does not constitute a legal option that the recipient of this memorandum is eligible to enter it. However, you may access the U.S. Department of State ("DOS") Instructions for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which lists the specific requirements for filing an Application for Registration and provides a complete list of qualifying countries. For the DOS Instructions regarding the Diversity Lottery, please visit the DOS' website.

Countries Whose Natives May File for Registration

Only natives of underrepresented countries (see explanation below) may seek registration in the Diversity Lottery. The countries whose natives are excluded from applying for the Diversity Lottery may change, so please see the DOS' website for a list of countries natives who are excluded from the current year's program.

Definition of Native

Only natives of qualifying countries may apply for registration in the lottery. The term "native" has a different meaning than "citizen." Native means both an individual who was born within one of the listed qualifying countries or an individual entitled to be "charged" to one of the qualifying countries. Applicants for Diversity Lottery registration can be "cross-charged" to the country of birth of a spouse. A minor child can be cross-charged to the country of birth of a parent. An applicant born in the country of which neither parent was a native or a resident at the time of his/her birth may be cross-charged to the country of birth of either parent.

Other Requirements

If an applicant is selected as a winner, he or she must still apply for an Immigrant Visa (if abroad) or Adjustment of Status (if in the U.S., and otherwise qualifies for adjustment, and prefers to process in the U.S.). The law requires winners to submit proof of one of the following at the time such final application is made:

  • A high school education or the equivalent; or
  • Two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience within the five-year period prior to application.

The Registration Period

A foreign national who is eligible to file an application must mail information meeting the lottery program requirements so that the envelope containing the information is received by the DOS during the 30-day period indicated in the DOS' instructions.

Lottery Application Procedures

The requirements for applying to enter the lottery are detailed and are not explained here because the DOS' website provides guidance. 

Selection of Winners

The DOS will randomly select lottery winners and will notify winners by mail.

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