The Diversity Lottery

February 2, 2018 9:42 am
by David Jakeman

US immigration law is full of quirks, but perhaps one of the most unusual is the diversity lottery. Anyone from an eligible country can apply for a green card. You might strike gold, you might not, but it’s free to apply, so millions of people enter their names and information every year.

Which Countries Qualify for the Diversity Lottery?

You can even be currently in the US and apply. However, you are not eligible for the lottery if you come from a country that has sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the US in the last five years. For the latest visa lottery, that meant that the following countries were excluded: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, mainland China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, the UK and its dependent territories (except Northern Ireland), and Vietnam.1

Eligibility Requirements for the Diversity Lottery

Even if you come from an ineligible country, if you are married to someone from an eligible country, you can also apply. However, if you are selected, you must enter the US together.
You may also be eligible if you were born in an ineligible country, but at the time of your birth, neither of your parents were born in the country or legally residing there. If that’s the case, and if one of your parents was born in an eligible country, then you can claim the eligible country for your application.

There is also an education or training requirement. Either you must also have completed high school or an equivalent, or you must show that in the past five years, you have had two years of job experience in a line of work that requires at least two years of training or experience. The State Department uses the Department of Labor’s job descriptions to determine what jobs are eligible, which you can access here:

Fraud Rampant in Diversity Lottery

Beware of scammers. There is no fee to apply for the diversity lottery, but there are plenty of people who pretend that it costs money to apply. They pose as visa consultants or helpers and charge you a fee to apply for you. If you have questions about how to apply, the State Department’s website has a video tutorial and a list of frequently asked questions to help you. You can access the application online at

The application is only open for a brief window, and the government recommends not waiting until the last week to submit your application because of heavy internet demand. In 2017, applications were accepted from October 18 to November 22. You can apply only once. If you apply multiple times, you will be disqualified.

The diversity lottery is unique to US immigration. It has a colorful political history, and it came under renewed scrutiny in Fall 2017 because one of its recipients, Sayfullo Saipov, ploughed a car into pedestrians in Manhattan in a freak attack. The Trump administration is now calling for its end as part of negotiations over DACA. In Seattle and elsewhere, immigration lawyers and observers are following the political drama.

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