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What Is the Diversity Visa Program—and Do You Qualify?

What Is the U.S. Diversity Visa Program?

Most believe the Diversity Visa Program was designed to promote diversity, encouraging immigrants from a wider range of countries to come to the United States. In 1986, however, Congress introduced the Diversity Visa Program as a means of helping Irish immigrants who were suddenly facing the restrictions of a newly introduced quota system. Now, Irish comprise just 0.05% of all Diversity Visa recipients.

In three decades, the program has drastically changed, and it likely will continue to do so along with shifts in attitudes toward various immigrant groups in the U.S. If you are considering applying through this program, it is essential that you stay on top of these changes and adjust your timing accordingly.

Who Qualifies for a Diversity Visa Today?

The program mainly assists those who do not have close relationships with U.S. employers or citizens, relationships which often allow applicants to obtain permanent residence through marriage or employment. Diversity Visa recipients comprise roughly 4-5% of individuals who receive Green Cards each year.

In 2021, the U.S. will grant Diversity Visas to 55,000 applicants through a lottery system. Using an allocation formula, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services determines how many visas to give to each geographic region, depending on recent immigration patterns. Those with higher rates of admission typically receive fewer Diversity Visas.

When a qualified candidate from an eligible country is randomly selected, they can then apply for the visa. In 2018, more than 23 million people applied, so the odds of selection were roughly 0.2%.

To be eligible for the Diversity Visa, you must:

  • Be a native of an eligible country
  • Be admissible to the U.S. under the Immigration and Nationality Act
  • Have the equivalent of a high-school education OR at least 2 years of recent qualifying work experience

In 2021, you are eligible to apply for a Diversity Visa unless you were born in one of the following:

  • Bangladesh
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China (mainland)
  • Colombia
  • Dominican Republic
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • India
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • United Kingdom and its dependent territories (except Northern Ireland)
  • Vietnam

If you are a native of one of these countries, but your spouse is not, you may still be eligible if you both apply and enter the U.S. together. You may also be able to claim your parent’s country of birth if it is not in this list.

How to Enter the Diversity Visa Lottery

Submitting an entry is a required first step but is not the same as applying for the visa. The deadline to enter for 2020 was November 6, 2018, and those looking to apply for 2021 will need to submit their entry by November 5,2019. You must enter electronically—take care to answer every question without any errors. You will be able to check the status of your entry beginning May 5, 2020 on the same website. If you are selected, the site will provide further instructions.

The U.S. Department of State has not yet released the step-by-step guide for those looking to apply for 2022. Check the U.S. Diversity Visa Instructions page frequently for a link to the new guide, as well as any updated information. Preparing ahead of time will help you avoid missing a crucial deadline.

7 Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is considered “recent qualifying work experience” as a substitute for a high-school education?

In the past 5 years, you must have 2 years of experience in a Specific Vocational Preparation range of 7.0 or higher. Use the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*Net OnLine database to determine if your work experience qualifies.

  1. Is there an age requirement?

Not technically—but, because you need work experience or a high school education, those under 18 will most likely not qualify.

  1. Can I apply if I’m in the United States?

Yes. You can apply from any location.

  1. Can I enter the lottery multiple times in one period?

No. Each person is allowed only one entry per registration period. You will be automatically disqualified if you attempt to enter multiple times.

  1. My spouse and I are both applying. Can we submit two separate entries?

Yes. If either you or your spouse is selected, the other can then apply as a derivative dependent.

  1. Will the Department of State send me a notification letter or email regarding my entry?

No. You will only have access to the status of your entry on the Entrant Status Check website.

  1. How much does it cost to enter the Diversity Visa Lottery?

Entering the Diversity Visa Lottery is free. If you are selected, however, the actual visa application process will have various fees.

Need More Information or Assistance?

Now more than ever, immigration is full of legal hurdles and complex procedures. If your goal is to fully pursue opportunities in the United States, our attorney at the Law Office of Robert J. Maher, PC is here to support you. With more than 13 years of experience, Attorney Maher has worked with New York City clients in all types of immigration matters.

The sooner you obtain qualified legal support, the sooner you can accomplish your immigration goals. Call (646) 681-1977 or schedule your consultation online today.