Green Card Lottery - Playing to Win

Every year, the U.S. government issues a specific number of green cards through a process called the Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery (DV Lottery), otherwise known as the green card lottery. The purpose of the drawing is to distribute opportunities for green cards in areas where there have been lower rates of U.S. immigration. This means that if you live in a country with a low U.S. immigration rate, you have a better chance of entering and winning the green card lotto. The distribution varies from year to year. Individuals from countries that have sent over 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. within the last two years were ineligible to enter the 2012 DV Lottery. The excluded countries for the 2012 DV Lottery included Canada, Brazil, India, Mexico, and Mainland China.

Entering the Green Card Lottery

If you want to enter the green card DV Lottery, you must apply online during a registration period. In the past, this period has generally been from October to November of each year. The entry period for the 2012 DV Lottery began in October 2010. You must be sure to submit complete and accurate information on your entry, as failure to do so can result in disqualification. For example, one requirement on the entry form is that you list all of your children under the age of twenty-one. This does not mean that your children have to immigrate, but the application does require a complete listing. If you are married, both you and your spouse may submit individual entries.

After entries are made, the U.S. government holds a drawing where an individual can “win” a green card. There are 100,000 names drawn each year, yet only about 50,000 visas are given out. This is because out of all of the names drawn, about half either end up not qualifying for the green card or change their minds. The individuals that get their names drawn are allowed to include their immediate family members as well, if they wish to immigrate with them. This means that if both you and your spouse submitted entries, but only your name was drawn, your spouse could still “piggy back” on your win by claiming derivative status.

“Winning” the Green Card Lottery

It is important to know that even if your name is drawn, you still must demonstrate green card eligibility. To be eligible you must have a high school education (or the equivalent thereof), or you must have been working in a qualifying occupation during the last five years that required at least two years of experience. The application process includes filing Form I-485. You can download a copy of this form at the U.S. Citizens Immigration Website. You will need to have supporting documentation to attach to your I-485 form. This documentation includes, but is not limited to, your birth certificate and two passport photos. If your name is drawn, you will be able to find it within the results posted online. Starting just this year, the U.S. government announced that the winners of the 2012 DV Lottery will not be notified, and may only check the status of their entry online. If you receive notification that you are a winner of the green card lottery by any other means, including by email, phone, or mail, then you are most likely the victim of a lottery scam. The Department of State and Federal Trade Commission frequently warn of fake lottery scams. The Federal Trade Commission website has a good update on how to spot scammers.

To summarize, the DV Lottery requires two general steps: submitting the entry application and then finalizing the application if your name is drawn. Instructions on how to proceed after your name is drawn can be found on the same webpage as the results. Failure to comply with these instructions could cause you to forfeit or lose the opportunity for the green card you obtained through the green card lottery. With that in mind, if you have any questions about how to complete the subsequent paperwork, you should consult with an attorney who specializes in immigration law. They can help you in assembling your documentation and in avoiding the general pitfalls of the immigration process.