Everything you need to know to apply for the green card lottery

The process for obtaining a green card can be a long and complicated one, and many people wait years to receive theirs. But the green card lottery is an additional opportunity to obtain a green card. Formally known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, it provides as many as 50,000 immigrant visas each year to people seeking American citizenship. In 2014, the program opened on Oct. 1 and will accept applications through the beginning of November, providing visas to citizens of particular countries to create a more diversified immigrant population in America.

How to enter
To enter the green card lottery for the 2016 year, apply online before noon (EDT) on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014. It is completely free to enter. The application must be submitted in English, though unofficial translations are available. No paper or late entries will be considered. After submitting your entry, you will be given a confirmation number. Print or write down this number so you can check the status of your entry and so you can complete the visa process if you are selected as a winner.

Exclusions
The 50,000 green cards awarded to applicants each year are intended for people from countries with low rates of U.S. immigration. The U.S. Department of State has determined that 19 countries have high immigration rates, and so citizens from those areas are not eligible for the green card lottery. These include:

  • Bangladesh
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China (those born in the mainland)
  • 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
  • Vietnam

Despite these restrictions, you still qualify if you’re married to someone from a country that is not on this list. Additionally, someone born in one of these countries may apply for a visa under the lottery program if neither of his or her parents were born or legally resided in the country.

Requirements
Applicants must meet a simple but strict set of guidelines to be eligible for the green card lottery. You must meet one of the following requirements:

Have at least a high school education
Have at least two years of work experience within the past five years; the position must be in an occupation that requires at least two years worth of experience or training

The selection process
The Department of State selects the winners at random from all entries according to how many visas are available for each region or country. On or around May 5 of the following year, the department announces the winners. To see if you were selected from the lottery, use your confirmation number to check the status of your entry on or after this date.