The Department of State distributes 50,000 visas through a lottery system to foreign nationals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. The Diversity Visa (DV) is meant to promote a diverse immigrant population and is not available to foreign nationals from “high admission” countries. A country is considered “high admission” if 50,000 or more people born in that country have immigrated to the United States under family or employment-based visa categories in the past five years.
The Department of State divides the world into six regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, and South America, Central America and The Caribbean. Not every country within a given geographic region satisfies the DV requirements and foreign nationals should check the latest eligibility list before applying. The Department of State’s website lists all eligible countries and any changes for each lottery cycle.
An applicant may be residing in any country, including the United States, at the time of applying for a DV. Further, foreign nationals residing in the United States under temporary immigration status are not disqualified from entering the lottery. Consequently, a foreign national residing in the United States on a temporary visa may obtain a permanent residency through the DV lottery without having to return to his or her native country.
At the time this article is written any foreign national who meets the requirements may submit an application for the 2019 DV visa between October 3, 2017, and November 7, 2017. Each year the application period occurs once a year, for a one-month period. Any applicant who submits more than one entry in a given year will be disqualified for that year.
Once the deadline has passed, a computer randomly selects 50,000 individuals from all the applicants. No single country may obtain more than seven percent of the available DVs in a given year.
While submitting an application to the DV lottery is free, if a foreign national win the lottery he or she must pay all visa application fees. If the foreign national is ineligible to enter the United States for any reason (i.e. health or security reasons) the foreign national will be denied a DV and all visa application fees will not be refunded.
Each DV applicant must meet two simple but strict requirements. First, the applicant must be born in an eligible country. If a foreign national was not born in an eligible country he or she may use an eligible country which he or she has connections with if: (1) his or her spouse was born in an eligible country and both partners are applying for a DV; or (2) the applicant’s parents were born in an eligible country and at the time of the applicant’s birth neither of the applicant’s parents were legal residents or born in the applicant’s country of birth.
Second, an applicant must have at least a high school education, defined as successful completion of twelve years of school or the applicant must have two years of work experience in the past five years in a field or profession that requires at least two years of training or education to perform.
Submitting an Application
Submitting an Electronic Diversity Visa Entry Form (DS-5501) is free and can be completed online. No paper application is available.
An applicant must list any spouse or children under the age of 21 regardless of whether his or her spouse and/or children will accompany the applicant to the United States. Failure to list spouse and/or children will result in automatic disqualification. An applicant does not have to list his or her spouse if they are legally separated and does not have to list any children if the children are citizens or permanent residents of the United States at the time of entry.
Additionally, an applicant must upload a recent, full face, color photo of him or herself. Recent is defined as within the last six months. The photo requirements are strict and failure to conform to the size, quality, or other requirements will result in disqualification. A full list of the photo’s requirements and a photo quality tool is available on the Department of State’s website.
If the photo does not conform to the requirements, then the application system will reject the DV form. A new application may be submitted so long as the application is received prior to the deadline.
After an application has successfully been submitted the applicant must retain the unique confirmation number that is provided. Failure to maintain one’s confirmation number impairs their ability to learn if he or she has been awarded a DV. If an applicant loses his or her confirmation number, it can be retrieved online.
The United States does not provide any notification to an applicant if he or she has been selected for a DV. All applicants have the responsibility to check their status online through the Entrant Status Check. The confirmation code the applicant receives is required to check one’s application status. Applicants can check their status and proceed with the application process from May through September.
Once selected for a DV an applicant must complete all visa paperwork, pay any and all visa application fees, and interview with a U.S. consular in the foreign national’s country of residence. If residing in the United States at the time of selection, a foreign national does not need to return home to complete the visa application process, although an adjustment of status application will still need to be filed with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to complete the final process for becoming a permanent resident. The adjustment application must be approved before the annual allotment of DV visas runs out for that fiscal year, so a successful applicant must take care not to delay the process and file the adjustment application as soon as possible.
Potential Problems and Concerns
The DV application is free, but organizations have been known to charge a filing fee and fraudulently submit applications on behalf of foreign nationals. This not only results in a monetary loss but can result in disqualification if the 3rd party filing the application submits multiple entries. Foreign nationals may report suspected fraudulent activity to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Before a DV is awarded a foreign national must prove that he or she will not be a “public charge,” which means the foreign national is capable of providing for his or her financial needs without assistance from the United States Government. Financial independence is typically demonstrated through personal assets, employment in the United States, or an Affidavit of Support signed by a family member or friend residing in the United States. Failure to prove one will not be a public charge will result in disqualification even if an applicant won the lottery.