What is the Visa Lottery?

Cathy Rogers
Cathy Rogers
The visa lottery divides 50,000 visas amongst six geographic regions.
The visa lottery divides 50,000 visas amongst six geographic regions.

The Diversity Visa Lottery program issues 50,000 immigrant visas each year to people who come from countries with low rates of immigration to United States. In the visa lottery, a computer randomly chooses winners from those who apply. Those selected through this lottery program are able to file for permanent residency in the U.S. and can also bring a spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21.

To be eligible, an applicant must a native of, or the child of someone born in, a country eligible for the visa lottery. In addition, an applicant must either hold the equivalent of a high school diploma or two years of work experience, within the past five years, in an occupation that requires two years of training or job experience. There is no fee to enter the visa lottery, but if selected, an applicant must pay a fee for an immigration visa and a visa lottery surcharge.

The U.S. Department of State announces the visa lottery each year through press releases and on the State Department's Web site. Generally, the department issues instructions for participation in the lottery each August, with the actual selection process following in October of the same year. A winner receives notification by May or June of the next year. The visa is issued approximately one year after the lottery selection. Only those selected receive notification.

The visa lottery divides the 50,000 visas each year among six geographic regions. Regions with lower rates of immigration receive a greater number of visas. No visas go to citizens of countries sending more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the previous five years. To find the most recent list of excluded nations, due to the number of immigrants sent, contact the U.S. Department of State.

Only one visa lottery entry per person is allowed and must be completed electronically. The entry requires information including name, date of birth, and city or town and county of birth. Gender, mailing address, marital status, and a digital photograph are also required. Also, an applicant must provide the country with eligibility information about his or her spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age. The applicant will receive a confirmation notice once the entry is complete.

A husband and wife can each file separate entries, as long as both meet eligibility requirements. An applicant may be living in the U.S. or another country when entering the visa lottery. More than 50,000 names are selected because not every person selected will be eligible for a visa or follow through on the process. The diversity immigrant program ends for the year once 50,000 visas are issued.

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    • The visa lottery divides 50,000 visas amongst six geographic regions.
      By: TMAX
      The visa lottery divides 50,000 visas amongst six geographic regions.