Green Card Lottery

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The Green Card Lottery, more properly known as the Diversity Immigration Visa (DV) is an annual lottery whereby up to 50,000 persons may be granted immigrant visas to the United States.


  • The DV has existed in its current form since around 1995.
  • Between 1986 and 1995 there were predecessor programs of a similar nature. Many of these gave special preference to certain countries, such as Ireland, Italy and Poland.

Eligibility rules

  • Eligibility to enter the DV is based on birthplace. Your citizenship, or passport, is irrelevant.
  • In order to enter for the DV, you must be:
    • born in an eligible country/territory; or
    • married to a person born in an eligible country/territory; or
    • in some limited circumstances, it is ok if both your parents were born in an eligible country/territory even if you were not.
  • A country/territory becomes ineligible for the DV if more than 50,000 persons born in that country emigrated to the United States in the last 5 years through employment or family based visas
  • The eligibility list is revised each year. About 20 countries are ineligible, but it varies from year to year. In Europe, as well as the United Kingdom, Poland and Russia have been ineligible at various times.

British citizens and the DV

  • Most British citizens are not eligible for the DV.
  • This is because the United Kingdom consistently sends more than 50,000 immigrants to the US in every 5 year period. This is unlikely to change in the immediate future (but anything is possible).
  • Hence persons born in the United Kingdom, plus British territories, are ineligible, unless they can use the spouse or parent birthplace exception.
  • Northern Ireland is treated as a separate jurisdiction for DV purposes.
  • Former British territories (such as Belize or Kenya) are generally eligible. Hong Kong is also eligible.
  • Many British citizens were born in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Germany (including military offspring) and Belgium. All these are eligible countries. Canada and India are among the other countries not DV eligible.

Application process

  • Each fall, the State Department opens up the visa lottery.
  • Follow the instructions exactly. In particular, only one application per person.
  • Don't fall for "scam" websites.
  • Those who apply in late 2009 (and are successful) will be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa between 1 October 2010 and 30 September 2011.

Chances of winning

  • Overall, State Dept receives 5 million or so entries looking for 50,000 green cards.
  • That's about a 1% chance of success, globally.
  • They do vary the allocation a little between countries and regions (preference to those with existing low immigration rates).

Selection does not guarantee an immigrant visa

  • Just because you are selected does not mean they will give you a visa.
  • You need to show you have a certain level of education (high school normally ok) or work experience. Also, you must meet all the usual criteria (medical, security etc) for US immigration.
  • If your case is not completed before the deadline, it lapses.
  • They deliberately select more "winners" than visas available for this reason.

Adjustment of status vs. Consular Processing

  • If you are legally in the US you may apply to adjust status with USCIS instead of leaving the US to obtain an immigrant visa
  • What you should do is case dependent and you should consult with an immigration attorney.

Future of the DV

  • The DV is not popular with certain members of Congress but until legislation is passed, the State Department will continue to administer it each year.
  • It is possible that if there is an "immigration reform" in the US, the program will be ended and the annual visa quota used for other purposes. This would not affect those who already hold a green card through this route.