With an eye toward promoting diversity within the immigrant populations across the United States, the Department of State’s (DOS) Diversity Visa (DV) Program invites nationals from around the world to roll the dice on getting a green card. Geared toward countries where fewer than 50,000 nationals have immigrated to the United States in the last five years, the DV Program—more commonly referred to as the green card lottery—allots 50,000 visas per year across six geographic zones around the world.
The six zones are Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Among the specific countries where nationals aren’t eligible to register for the green card lottery: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Most recently, the DV-2015 program also excluded Nigerian nationals.
Limitations on nationals eligible to register for the green card lottery apply only to immigrant numbers. Nationals who are classified as refugees, asylum seekers or some other category aren’t counted against a particular country’s numbers. Because of this, citizens of Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Burma and Guatemala—countries that have each seen more than 50,000 nationals live in the United States over the past five years—are still eligible to register for the green card lottery.
For potential immigrants living in a country the DOS has disqualified from entering the green card lottery, workarounds do exist. In cases where a spouse is a native of an eligible country, for example, the couple as a whole can claim that eligible country when the spouses plan to immigrate together. In cases where parents’ national origin is an eligible country for the green card lottery, children can claim the eligible country on their lottery application. “Your country of eligibility will normally be the same as your country of birth,” reads DOS green card lottery instructions read. “Your country of eligibility is not related to where you live.”
Some interesting tidbits about the green card lottery:
- Of the countries where nationals make the heaviest use of registering for the green card lottery, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran and the Democratic Republic of Congo top the list.
- Although heavy immigration from Russia could have tipped the country to ineligibility, the combination of a drop in adoptions as well as immigrant allocation of “Soviet Union (former),” means the green card lottery has remained open to nationals.
- Although the green card lottery was instituted in the 1990’s, 13 countries have been ineligible to participate since the beginning: Canada, China (mainland), Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.
None of the eligible countries for the green card lottery receive more than 7 percent of available through the program.