The United States has long been known as a “melting pot” of nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities. In order to keep the United States diverse, Congress enacted a program called the “Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.” This program makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas (green cards) each year to random applicants from across the world. The eligible countries are determined each year from countries with particularly low immigration rates to the United States. Applicants are accepted 1-2 years ahead of the drawing; in other words, applicants selected from this year’s applications may be eligible to begin filing for their green cards from October 2017 – September 2018.
Applications for the random drawing will start being accepted on October 4, 2016 at 12:00 PM (EST) through November 7, 2016 at 12:00 PM (EST). These dates are extremely important, as the website only accepts applications during this narrow window. Each applicant is only allowed to apply once, and any duplicate applications will completely disqualify ALL applications for that applicant, so submitting a proper application the first time is critical.
Determining your eligibility can be tricky. There are a number of factors that must be taken into account before deciding if you can actually win. To start, because the Diversity Visa program is intended to diversity the United States, natives of certain countries with high immigration rates are disqualified from even applying. These countries include: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.
NOTE: Ecuador is now eligible this year!
However, just because you are a native of one of the above countries doesn’t mean you are completely ineligible. There are certain exceptions that may apply – for example, if your spouse was born in an eligible country, you may be eligible by claiming your spouse’s country of birth. In addition, if you were born in an ineligible country but neither of your parents were born there or were legally resident at the time of your birth, you may be able to use the country of your parents’ birth.
In addition, there is an educational or work experience requirement that must be met for each lead applicant. More specifically, the lead applicant must have a high-school degree or two years of work experience in a qualifying field of employment. However, a high school degree in certain countries are not necessarily the same as a high school degree in the United States – further analysis may be required to be sure you are qualified. More problematically, the list of jobs that qualify for work experience can be difficult to navigate.
Most interestingly, if you have more than one person in your family that qualifies, you may be eligible to submit more than one application – giving you more than one chance to win. However, you have to be careful to know which people to include in each application so as to avoid accidentally disqualifying yourself. For example, failing to include the right dependents in your application – including your spouse and the appropriate children – can disqualify you as well.
Without knowing for certain if you meet all the requirements, the Diversity Visa Lottery process can be confusing and potentially dangerous process if you are already out of status in the United States. Don’t be someone who manages to be one of the lucky few who “wins” the lottery, only to discover during the interview that one minor error on the application caused your disqualification. Even improperly formatting your photograph may result in your disqualification.
There are a number of fraudulent, or fake websites that exist to confuse the issue even more. Be sure that, if you apply for the Diversity Visa Lottery program, you only use a website that belongs to the United States Department of State. Other programs that offer to file your application for you, like visa consultants or visa agents, can potentially take your money and your personal identity. For example, many websites offer to file your application for you but claim there is a filing fee, which is false – the United States government does not require a fee to filing the application. Other websites will send emails claiming to be the Department of State and notifying you of your selection for the program. However, the United States government will never email you to notify you of your selection – you must visit the lottery website after May 2, 2017 to enter your confirmation number and determine yourself if you are eligible.
Finally, be sure that you don’t wait until the very end of the program to start your application. For example, there are so many demands on the website during the last week that it often becomes impossible to submit an application without the website causing an error. If you want to apply, apply early!
If you seek help, only seek the help of a licensed attorney. And if you are unsure about your eligibility, please feel free to contact the Immigration Division at Shapiro Law Group, PC. We assist our clients with all steps of the process, including determining eligibility, properly formatting their photographs, all the way through proper submission – and even checking their eligibility when the numbers are released!