Even foreign nationals with hard science or advanced degrees can vouch that obtaining a US nonimmigrant working visa and legal permanent residence, also known as the green card, is getting harder and harder. Most foreign nationals who wish to live and work in the US must have either an employer who will petition them, or a close relative who is already a US citizen or legal permanent resident.
But there is an easier way. Every year, the United States gives away almost “free” green cards through the Diversity Visa Lottery. The cards are not free in the sense that there are no fees, but they are free in the sense that the Diversity Visa Lottery green cards do not require that the foreign national have a closely-related relative who is a US citizen, or US legal permanent resident or a petitioning employer.
Up to 50,000 foreign nationals can immigrate under the lottery. The purpose of the lottery is to increase immigration from those countries that do not have a high rate of immigration to the US. Natives of the following countries are excluded: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Foreign nationals born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.
In order to apply for the Diversity Visa Lottery, a foreign national must have a US high school degree (or its equivalent) OR two years of work experience within the last five years in an occupation that requires two years of training.
The registration period for the 2016 lottery is from October 1, 2014 to November 3, 2014. The first and last week of the registration period are not the best time to apply, as the website usually experiences heavy usage during that period. The electronic entry form and instructions for the 2016 Diversity Visa Lottery are posted at http://travel.state.gov/visa/immigrants/types/types_1322.html. This is the only portal that foreign nationals should use to apply for the lottery. Using a service or some other website does not increase your chances, and a number of “services” are scams. Additionally, winners are not notified by letter or e-mail. Entrants must save the confirmation page, which contains the information needed to check at the US Department of State website to see if an entrant has been chosen.
Each foreign national can submit only one entry per year. Submitting more than one entry will disqualify the individual. The entry must be submitted via the internet. The US Department of State will not accept paper entries. While there is no minimum age, the high school education or work experience requirement effectively disqualifies most individuals under age 18. Additionally, if a foreign national was born in a country not qualified, but the foreign national’s spouse was born in a country that qualifies, then each spouse can submit an entry. Same-sex spouses are now eligible to immigrate the same as heterosexual couples, so a same-sex spouse should be listed on the initial entry. This is a change from previous years.
You should read all the instructions very closely, even if you have applied in past years! There are usually some minor changes every year. The PDF version of the instructions is 17 pages long. At the moment, the instructions are only in English, but numerous foreign language translations will likely be posted soon.
Every year, the US Department of State selects more than 50,000 entries. This is because the Department of State estimates that not all of the winners of the lottery will choose to complete the immigration process. Because of this, it is important that selected winners complete the process as soon as possible before other winners use up the 50,000 available visas.
The winners of the 2016 lottery will be chosen in the Spring of 2015, and the US begins issuing visas for the 2016 lottery as of October 1, 2015. Each foreign national who wins, will receive a number, which indicates that he is eligible to be in line for the immigration process. The visas are issued in an orderly fashion over the 2016 fiscal year. Foreign nationals must successfully complete the process prior to September 30, 2016, the end of the 2016 fiscal year.
There is no fee to apply for the lottery, although there are significant government fees if a person wins and decides to immigrate. Paying an attorney or for an agency to assist does not increase the chances of winning. If the foreign national wins, it would be best to have an attorney complete the process or at the very least consult an attorney so that the foreign national understands the immigration process.
After winning the lottery, foreign nationals must still meet all the requirements for becoming a legal permanent resident. Criminal issues, prior immigration overstays, and a variety of other issues could still prevent a foreign national from immigrating to the US. Additionally, for those foreign nationals who are currently in the US on a nonimmigrant visa or other status and those foreign nationals who may plan on coming to the US in the future as a visitor or nonimmigrant, it would be best to consult with an attorney for a full understanding of how applying for the Diversity Visa Lottery could affect any current or future ability to enter or remain in the US.