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US 'Green Card' Lottery Registration Begins

This image shows a sample of the front of the redesigned green card carried by foreign-born residents living permanently in the U.S.

The United States government’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program opens Oct. 1. The program is known to millions of people around the world as the “green card lottery.”

“Green card” is the unofficial name for the government document used to prove that a person is a legal U.S. immigrant. Green cards are also given to those offered asylum or protection as refugees. And a green card may be given to individuals with family members who are U.S. citizens.

The document is not evidence of citizenship. But it means the person can live and work in the United States. Once someone gets a green card, they can nominate their wives, husbands and children for green cards. A foreign citizen who has been offered a job in the United States can ask for a green card. In that case, the person’s employer would act as a “sponsor.”

The U.S. Congress approved the visa program in 1990 as a way to increase the number of immigrants to the country. Winners are chosen through a random computer drawing.

What countries are excluded ?

The program gives 50,000 green cards each year to citizens of countries that have low rates of immigration to the United States. This year, like last year, the visa lottery is not being offered to people from these 19 countries because the State Department says the United States already has many immigrants from these areas: 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.

However, a person may seek a visa under the program if he or she was born in one of the 19 countries but neither parent was born or living legally in the country. An individual may also seek a visa if their husband or wife was born in a country whose citizens are permitted to apply.

A person must, in the State Department’s words, “meet simple, but strict eligibility requirements in order to qualify” for the program. For example, applicants must have completed at least 12 years of schooling or have two years of work experience in the past five years in a job that requires at least two years of training or experience.

The State Department warns that people who win the lottery must still meet all requirements under U.S. law. It says those requirements may increase the level of investigation and the time needed to process a visa application, especially if winners are from “countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism.”

It doesn't cost anything to enter the diversity visa lottery program, but winners must pay for their visa and related costs. Some people pay others to help with the application, but the State Department says entrants “are strongly encouraged to complete the entry form yourself, without a ‘visa consultant,’ ‘visa agent’” or other person who offers to help.

The computer selection will happen in May. The winners then meet with State Department employees to answer questions. No country may receive more than seven percent of the visas given in a year.

The possibilities of winning the lottery are not good. Millions of people apply to the program every year. Fifteen million people applied in 2010.

Winners are permitted to bring their spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21. But before being permitted to travel to the United States, they must prove that they have enough money to support themselves or prove that someone already legally in the United States will support them. The U.S. government will not pay for lottery winners to travel to the United States and will not help them find housing, a job, or provide health care.

The program closes Nov. 3. All applications must be sent electronically. Written requests are not accepted. People who win the lottery will not receive a letter, an email or a telephone call from the State Department. The names of the winners will be available on the department’s website between May 5, 2015 and June 30, 2016.

The State Department has written an 18-page document explaining the visa program. It has rules that people must follow, and a list of frequently-asked questions. And it lists the countries whose citizens may not apply for a diversity visa as well as the countries whose citizens may. We have placed a link to the document on our website,