What is the Immigration Lottery?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The immigration lottery, properly known as the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, is a program mandated by the United States' Congress to issue visas to immigrants from qualifying nations. The immigration lottery issues approximately 50,000 visas per year; in 2011, over 12 million qualified people applied to the program. There is some controversy surrounding the immigration lottery; critics point out that it permits people that have been in the United States only a short time to get visas before others that have been trying for decades to achieve permanent residency.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

As a later-added part of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the immigration lottery increases diversity in the United States by providing visas to immigrants hailing from countries that have low representation in the US population. The lottery came about through amendments to US immigration codes, mostly significantly through amendments made in 1990 and 1995. These amendments increased the quota of immigration lottery visas and set down the prerequisites for qualification.

In order to qualify for a lottery visa, applicants must be from countries that have sent less than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the last five years. Additionally, no single country can receive more than 7% of the available visas. Other requirements include proof of a high school education or equivalent schooling, and proof of at least two years employment in a job that requires at least two years of training. People who are married to someone who qualifies for the lottery may also submit an application.

Applications are available online in several different translations. The application can include requests for family members to also receive visas, including children and spouses. It is important to fill out the application carefully, since incomplete applications are not accepted. It is also very important to only apply once per year, as multiple applications can result in immediate expulsion from the program and even criminal charges for fraud. A passport picture of each family member on the application is necessary.

Winning the lottery does not necessarily guarantee a visa. Once the 50,000 applicants are chosen, they must submit more information and go through an interview process. Only after a person has met all final requirements is a permanent green card issued.

While winning a visa through the immigration lottery is a wonderful relief to many families, the existence of the lottery is frustrating to many immigrants that do not qualify for the program. Some people must try for years to find employment sponsorship and meet rigorous standards in order to receive a visa through other means. Some immigration reformers suggest that the visa lottery should be re-tooled to include applicants who qualify through reasons other than diversity, or that the lottery should be thrown out altogether to create a process where everyone has an equal chance.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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