The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, mandated by the U.S. Congress, makes 50,000 so-called "diversity visas" (or DVs) available each year for those who meet the eligibility requirements. Diversity visas, the recipients of which are drawn at random, are set aside for individuals from countries that have generally low rates of immigration to the U.S. The list of qualifying countries of origin is subject to change from one year to the next, in accordance with immigration trends.
Since the number of DVs available each year is so limited, the Department of State (DOS) holds an annual "diversity visa lottery." The registration period for the diversity visa lottery program generally runs for one month in the fall of each year (see the Dept. of State's "DV Entrant Status Check" page for more details).
Lottery "winners" are authorized to bring a spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21, as well.
Since the list of countries included in the DV program changes each year, you will need to check with the DOS website before the annual lottery. In some instances, you may be eligible if one of your parents was born in an eligible country.
Even with a winning DV entry, applicants must meet all other qualifications with respect to education, work, or other criteria. At a minimum, DV applicants must meet one of the following requirements:
For the second requirement listed above (if you are applying for a work-related visa), your occupation must be designated as Job Zone 4 or 5 and classified in a Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) range of at least 7.0. See the DOS page "Diversity Visa - List of Occupations" to check the eligibility status of your occupation.
The DOS releases detailed diversity visa lottery application procedures each year, usually in August, just a couple of months prior to the one-month registration window. The DOS requires all DV applications to be filed electronically, for which there is no charge. Once you have successfully registered for the diversity visa lottery, you will be given a unique confirmation number (retain this for your records).
Millions of applications are rejected each year due to failure to follow the directions, so make sure you read the directions carefully (which are available in a number of different languages, corresponding to the list of eligible countries). Submission of more than one application will result in automatic disqualification.
You will be required to pay an immigrant visa fee and a separate visa lottery surcharge if you are selected in the lottery.
DV lottery winners will be notified at the addresses listed on their applications via mail, along with information about fees and further visa application instructions. Keep in mind that winning the lottery is no guarantee that you will be granted a visa. In fact, the number of entries selected is always greater than 50,000 to make up for the number of applicants not selected or who choose not to complete their applications.
Typically, the DOS notifies the winners of the DV lottery in May (or roughly six months after the registration period has ended). See "Electronic Diversity Visa: Entrant Status Check" on the DOS website to check the status of your application.
Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with visa procedures.