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Diversity Immigration Lottery

Written by Henry J. Chang
Updated October 10, 2010


The Diversity Visa ("DV") Lottery Program offers an opportunity for aliens of certain nationalities to acquire U.S. permanent residence. The program is administered on an annual basis by the Department of State and conducted under the terms of INA §203(c). The program makes permanent residence visas available to persons meeting simple but strict eligibility requirements. Applicants for DVs are chosen by a computer-generated random lottery drawing.

A total of 55,000 diversity visas are available in the diversity immigration lottery. However, the Nicaraguan and Central America Relief Act ("NACARA") passed by Congress in November 1997 stipulates that beginning as early as DV-1999, and for as long as necessary, 5000 of the 55,000 annually-allocated diversity visas will be made available for use under the NACARA program. The actual reduction of the limit to 50,000 began in DV-2000 and remains in effect.

Entries for the DV-2012 DV Lottery must be submitted electronically between noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT-4), Tuesday, October 5, 2010, and noon, Eastern Standard Time (EST) (GMT-5) Wednesday, November 3, 2010. Applicants may access the electronic Diversity Visa Entry Form (E-DV) at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov during the registration period. Paper entries will not be accepted. Applicants are strongly encouraged not to wait until the last week of the registration period to enter. Heavy demand may result in Web site delays. No entries will be accepted after noon, EST, on November 3, 2010.

Visa Allocation

The visas are distributed among six geographic regions. The six geographic regions are as follows:

  2. ASIA

Within a region, no one country may receive more than 7% of the available visas in any one year. No visas are allocated to citizens of countries that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States within the past five years in the immediate relative, family and employment preference categories. As a result, persons born in "high-admission" countries are not eligible for the DV lottery.

Ineligible Countries

The list of eligible countries may change each year. For the DV-2012 lottery, the following countries are considered "high admission" countries and are therefore not eligible:

  1. BRAZIL;
  2. CANADA;
  3. CHINA (Persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible);
  9. HAITI;
  10. INDIA;
  11. JAMAICA;
  12. MEXICO;
  14. PERU;
  16. POLAND;
  18. UNITED KINGDOM (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories; and
  19. VIETNAM;

Persons born in any of the above countries are not eligible. However, persons born in other countries who subsequently obtained citizenship in one of the above countries are still eligible. For DV-2012, no countries have been added or removed from the previous year's list of eligible countries.

Eligibility Requirements


In order to be eligible for the DV lottery, the applicant must be born in an eligible foreign country or be entitled to claim the privileges of that country for the purpose of the lottery. Mere citizenship in an eligible country is not sufficient.

For the purposes of the DV lottery, an applicant may claim the privilege of his or her lawful spouse's country of birth. In other words, an applicant born in an ineligible country but who is married to someone who was born in an eligible country may apply for the lottery on his or her own, as a principal applicant. His or her spouse may also submit an application as a principal applicant. However, he/she will not be issued a DV-1 unless the spouse is also eligible for and issued a DV-2, and both must enter the U.S. together on the DV visas. In a similar manner, a dependent child (unmarried child under the age of 21) may claim the privileges of his or her parent's country of birth, in order submit an application on his or her own as a principal applicant.

An applicant born in an ineligible country of which neither parent was a resident at the time of the applicant's birth may claim the privileges of either parent's country of birth. In general, people are not considered residents of a country in which they were not born or legally naturalized if they are only visiting the country temporarily or stationed in the country for business or professional reasons on behalf of a company or government.

An applicant who claims alternate chargeability must include information to that effect on the application for registration.

Education or Work Experience

An applicant must have EITHER a high school education or its equivalent, defined as successful completion of a 12-year course of elementary and secondary education; OR two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience to perform. Proof of education or experience is not submitted with the application but must be shown to the consular officer at the time of the formal immigrant visa application.

"High school education or its equivalent" means the successful completion of a twelve-year course of elementary and secondary education in the U.S. or successful completion in another county of a formal course of elementary and secondary education comparable to complete a 12 year education in the U.S. or successful completion in another country of a formal cause of elementary and secondary education comparable to completion of a 12 year education in the U.S. Passage of a high school equivalency examination is not sufficient.

Qualifying work experience is no longer defined by the Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Instead, the determination of which occupations require at least two years of training or experience is now based on the more current information contained in the Department of Labor's O*Net Online database.

Location of Applicant Not Material

An applicant may be in the U.S. or in another country, and the entry may be mailed from the U.S. or from abroad. Persons whose immigrant petitions are pending or approved, who are already registered for an immigrant visa, or whose adjustment of status cases are pending in another category may still apply under the DV lottery.

No minimum Age

There is no minimum age required to apply under the DV lottery. However, the requirement of a high school education or work experience for each principal applicant at the time of application will effectively disqualify most persons who are under age 18.

Dependents of DV Applicants

The spouse and dependent child of a DV principal applicant are considered derivative beneficiaries. They are therefore eligible for lawful permanent residence under the DV category if the principal applicant wins the DV lottery.

Claiming derivative status is different from claiming alternate chargeability (which would allow the dependent spouse or child to submit an additional application on their own as a principal applicant). Even if the spouse and dependent child do not claim alternate chargeability in order to submit their own applications, they can still immigrate as derivative beneficiares if the spouse/parent wins the DV lottery.

To qualify as a derivative beneficiary, a dependent child must be unmarried and under age 21. However, the provisions of the Child Status Protection Act provide some protection to ensure that such children do not lose their eligibility if they reach 21 before they have completed processing of their immigrant cases. The Child Status Protection Act is discussed elsewhere at this web site.

How to Apply

As stated above, entries for the DV lottery must be submitted electronically. Applicants may access the Electronic Diversity Visa Entry Form at "www.dvlottery.state.gov" during the registration period (which is different each year). Paper entries will not be accepted.

All entries by an individual will be disqualified if more than ONE entry for that individual is received, regardless of who submitted the entry. Applicants may prepare and submit their own entries, or have someone submit the entry for them.

There have been instances of fraudulent websites posing as official U.S. Government sites; these companies posing as the U.S. Government have sought money in order to "complete" lottery entry forms. In reality, there is no charge to download and complete the entry form. There is also no need to hire a lawyer or agent to submit their lottery application.

A successfully registered entry will result in the display of a confirmation screen containing the applicant's name and a unique confirmation number. The applicant may print this confirmation screen for their records using the print function of their Web browser. They will also be able to check the status of their DV-2012 entry by returning to the Web site and entering the unique confirmation number and personal information.

It is very important that all required photographs be submitted. The entry will be disqualified if all required photographs are not submitted. Recent photographs of the following people must be submitted electronically with the Electronic Diversity Visa Entry Form: (a) the applicant; (b) the spouse; and (c) each unmarried child under 21 years of age at the time of the electronic entry, including all natural children as well as all legally-adopted children and stepchildren, even if a child no longer resides with the applicant or he/she does not intend for a child to immigrate under the DV program. Applicants do not need to submit a photo for a child who is already a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.

A digital photograph (image) of the applicant, the spouse, and each child must be submitted on-line with the E-DV Entry Form. The image file can be produced either by taking a new digital photograph or by scanning a photographic print with a digital scanner. Entries are subject to disqualification and visa refusal for cases in which the photographs are not recent or have been manipulated or fail to meet the required specifications.

Notification of Winners

After the end of the registration period, a computer will randomly select entries from among all the entries received for each geographic region. All entries received during the registration period will have an equal chance of being selected within each region.

For DV-2012, entrant notification will be through the Entry Status Check at http://www.dvlottery.state.gov. Those selected will be provided further instructions, including information on fees connected with immigration to the U.S. Persons not selected will NOT receive any notification. Spouses and dependent children (unmarried children under age 21) of successful applicants may also apply for visas to accompany or follow to join the principal applicant.

Being selected as a winner in the DV lottery does not automatically guarantee being issued a visa even if the applicant is qualified, since the number of entries selected and registered is greater than the number of immigrant visas available. It is therefore important for lottery winners to submit their visa applications quickly.

Selected applicants must obtain the DV visa through immigrant consular processing or adjust their status during the fiscal year (i.e., from October 1 through September 30). There is no carry-over of DV benefits into the next year for persons who are selected but who do not obtain visas during the fiscal year.


Applicants are subject to all grounds of ineligibility for immigrant visas specified in the INA. There are no special provisions for the waiver of any ground of visa ineligibility other than those ordinarily provided in the INA.

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