What Is the Diversity Visa Lottery?

by Kaia Koglin
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The diversity visa lottery is also known as the green card lottery or, more formally, as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

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It’s a program designed to encourage migration from countries that have low immigration rates to the United States. Millions of people apply each year in an attempt to gain a permanent resident card through the program.

What Is the Diversity Visa Lottery?

Beginning in 1986, there were a number of attempts to diversify immigration into the United States. However, it wasn’t until the Immigration Act of 1990 was signed into law that the current program came into being. This act put aside 55,000 visas each year to be made available through a lottery system.

To get applicants from a good mix of countries (a diversity, if you will), the lottery divides applicants into six geographic regions and distributes visas among those regions. The law also states that no more than 7% of visas can be given to people from a single country.

People sign up for the DV lottery through the Department of State. Putting your name forward for the visa is free, and it’s important to note that this is the only way to apply. There are a number of scams that ask for money to apply or say they can increase your chances of being chosen for a fee. This is all untrue. Applications can only be submitted through the website dvprogram.state.gov.

Applicants must answer a few questions to determine their eligibility and receive a confirmation number. In the past, there were options to submit applications through paper forms, but the process is now done exclusively online. A computerized lottery system then randomly selects people to continue the visa application process. People admitted through the DV lottery can also bring their spouses and any unmarried children under 21 years of age.

Each diversity visa lottery is a years-long process, with successful applicants moving during the lottery year. This means that the DV lottery 2024 is already over and the people selected are on their way to the United States. The 2025 lottery is also closed for new applicants. The next round of applications will be for DV-2026. Although application dates change each year, it’s likely that they’ll be open toward the end of 2024.

Who Qualifies for the Diversity Visa Lottery?

As the DV lottery is meant to diversify immigrants, only people from certain countries can apply. The lottery is open to natives from countries that have had low numbers of immigrants over the last five years. It excludes people from countries that have had more than 50,000 people admitted through family-sponsored or employment-based visas. Some of the countries that didn’t qualify in 2025 include:

  • Bangladesh
  • Canada
  • China
  • Honduras
  • Nigeria
  • Venezuela
  • South Korea

People who are native to an excluded country may still be able to apply for the DV lottery if they meet certain criteria based on the birthplace of either their spouse or their parents.

Applicants must also have graduated from high school or have at least two years of qualifying work experience. Although there’s no minimum age for applicants, this criteria generally means applicants are 18 years of age or older.

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What Happens If You Win the Diversity Visa Lottery?

Once the lottery has been completed, applicants can use their confirmation number to check their status. People who've been selected will receive a link to further instructions and information about fees for the application process. This is the only way applicants are notified; no letters are mailed out.

While the diversity visa lottery means a green card is available for winners, each applicant must go through the normal process to be granted a visa. Everyone admitted through the DV program must be legally allowed to come to the country, so they must pass all the relevant background checks. This includes spouses and children of lottery winners. Applicants must also attend an in-person interview where they'll be asked about criminal and security-related topics.

DV lottery winners must also demonstrate that they won’t become “a public charge.” The public charge test is used to determine if a person is likely to depend on the government for support in the future.

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