What Is a Diversity Visa?

Diversity visas are issued through the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program, also known as the green card lottery, and give over 50,000 people the chance to become residents of the United States each year. People are chosen at random from all the applicants and are from countries that have low rates of immigration to the U.S. Eligible countries are selected each year, and the application process is open for a short period of time. Being chosen for the diversity visa does not guarantee immigrant status. Lottery winners must still apply and meet the criteria.

Eligibility for the Diversity Visa

In order to successfully apply for the green card lottery, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Have a high school education or equivalent or have at least two years of experience in a career that requires at least two years of training, and must be admissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Be a native or have a spouse who is a native of one of the countries that qualify for the diversity visa lottery.
  • Be admissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
  • Submit their application electronically.

Lottery winners are randomly selected by a computer, and the State Department will then notify the winners. Winners will have a short period of time to file paperwork that shows they are eligible to be legal permanent residents. Interviews are then scheduled, and the lottery winners may bring their spouses and minor children to the U.S. as dependents.

Who Has Received Diversity Visas in the Past?

Each year, diversity visa winners make up about 4% of all permanent residency applicants. In 2009, there were 47,879 green cards given to diversity visa winners. Of that number, 26,243 were applicants, 10,157 were spouses of the main applicant, and 11,479 were the children of the main applicant.

In 2010, 49,763 green cards given to diversity visa winners and their families. Slightly more than half were male, and 74 percent were 21 or older.

Diversity Visa Versus Green Card

A diversity visa is an immigrant visa that you receive after you have "won" the diversity visa lottery, applied for a visa, and been approved. This lottery system gives 50,000 visas to people from countries that have sent the fewest immigrants to the U.S. in the past five years. Not everyone who is drawn in the lottery will receive a visa. You still need to go through the application process and prove that you are eligible.

A green card is the photo identity card that is given to people who have been given lawful permanent residence in the United States. If you come to the U.S. using a diversity visa, you will immediately become a permanent resident and get your actual green card shortly afterward.

Applying for the Diversity Visa

  • Step 1: Check if you qualify by taking this quick test.
  • Step 2: Once the registration period opens (the dates change each year), you need to apply online through the U.S. Department of State website. Make sure that the photo you use was taken within the last six months and that it meets all of the requirements stated in the application.
  • Step 3: After you complete the application, you'll get a confirmation page that has your name and a unique confirmation number on it. Print this confirmation and keep it in a safe place. This is the information that will allow you access your visa status later on.

Which Countries Are Excluded From This Year’s DV Lottery?

For DV-2017, natives of the following countries cannot apply, because more than 50,000 natives of these countries immigrated to the United States in the last five years:

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

Applicants born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible. A person is considered a “native” of the country in which he or she was born. There are some exceptions to this rule, so if you are not sure whether you qualify, you should contact a lawyer.

Applying From Within the United States

While it is preferred that all applicants apply for the diversity visa from outside the country, it is still possible to apply if you are currently in the United States. If you would like to apply for the visa from within the country, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You have been selected to apply for a diversity visa by the Department of State’s lottery.
  • You have an immigrant visa immediately available at the time of filing an adjustment application.
  • You are in the United States legally.

If all three of these things are true, you should fill out form I-485 to apply for your green card. In addition to this form, you'll also need to provide:

How to Find Out If You've Been Selected

When you apply for the diversity visa lottery, you will be told the date when winning entries will be selected. The date is different every year. Once that date arrives, you should go to the diversity visa lottery website and check your status. To do this, you will need the confirmation code that was given to you when you completed your application.

The Future of the Diversity Visa

The future of the diversity visa is unclear. Some Republicans have been working on a new bill called the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or the RAISE Act, that would abolish the diversity visa program. However, the RAISE Act is still being discussed and has not been passed into law. It already faces serious opposition from many Fortune 500 executives as well as most of Silicon Valley.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there translations of the application form in my language?

The State Department has several translations of the forms, which you can find here.

  • Which countries do diversity winners come from?

The statistics change every year, but the aim of this visa is to give immigrant status to people from under-represented countries. In recent years many recipients of the diversity visa have come from Ethiopia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Kenya.

  • Will my diversity visa cover my spouse and children?

Yes, winners may bring their spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old to the U.S. as derivatives. However, each person will have to fill out form DS-260 to obtain an immigrant visa and submit their own green card application.

  • I'm HIV-positive. Can I apply for the diversity visa?

Yes, being HIV-positive is no longer grounds for inadmissibility.

  • Can I submit more than one application?

No, submitting more than one application for the diversity visa will automatically disqualify all of your submissions.

  • Is there a fee to enter the diversity visa lottery?

No, there is no fee to enter the diversity visa lottery.

  • If I win the diversity visa lottery, do I automatically get a green card?

No, you must still submit a visa application, meet all the requirements for an immigrant visa to the United States, and be admitted at a U.S. port of entry. Then, once you are in the United States, you can begin the process of submitting a green card application.

If you are pulled from the lottery, you will be given a number. The lower the number, the sooner you can apply for your visa. Each year, the Department of State selects more winners than the number of diversity visas available, so the 50,000 quota could be met before you get a chance to apply. If you do get to apply, you will still lose your chance at a diversity visa if your application has not been completely processed by the end of the fiscal year.

  • Should I hire a representative or use an online service to file for the diversity visa?

It is not advised to use a third-party to file for the diversity visa. Websites that offer to help you fill out your application are not reputable. The application is very simple to fill out, but if you still want help, seek out non-profit organizations who help people do this for free.

If you need help with the diversity visa, you can post your question or concern on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or for companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.