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10 things to know about applying for the green card lottery

Through Nov. 7, would-be immigrants can apply for one of 55,000 U.S. green cards in the annual "Diversity Visa" lottery. However, 18 countries are not permitted in the lottery.
5 Oct 2016 – 12:51 PM EDT
The State Department will award 55,000 green cards in the annual Diversity Visa Lottery. Crédito: Getty Images

Millions are preparing to enter the green card lottery to give 55,000 immigrants permanent residency in the United States.

On Tuesday, the State Department said it would begin accepting applications for the green cards, which will be sent out at the end of the 2018 fiscal year. Around 14 to 15 million people from five continents are expected to enter the lottery, based on application numbers from the last three years.

1. What's the deadline to apply?

The application period began on Oct. 4 and ends on Nov. 7.

2. How does the application work?

Applicants must fill out the E-DV-Entry Form online. The State Department will only accept applications through the website and will not accept any applications after Nov. 7, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. EST.

3. Who can apply?

Each year the State Department publishes a list of countries allowed to participate in the visa lottery. If more than 50,000 people from a given country immigrated to the U.S. within the past five years, that country is eliminated from the visa lottery.

This year, the following countries are *not* allowed in the green card lottery:

  • Bangladesh
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China (mainland-born)
  • Colombia
  • Dominican Republic
  • El Salvador
  • Haiti
  • India
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland)
  • Vietnam

The State Department noted that unlike last year, Ecuador will now be eligible for the lottery.
4. What are the main requirements?

Foreigners who participate must show that their country is on the list of approved nations, have at least a secondary-school education or its equivalent, or have two years of work experience over the last five years (in a qualifying category), according to U.S. Department of Labor specifications. See the State Department’s instructions here.

5. Can I be disqualified if I make a mistake on the application?

Yes. The State Department advises green card lottery applicants to carefully complete the registration process online. It notes that people often make careless mistakes that can disqualify them at a later date, even if they were initially selected in the lottery. Therefore, it's important to read instructions carefully.

6. What are the most common errors?

Among the most common mistakes or oversights are: leaving off a spouse and their children, or wrongly indicating country of birth. The State Department indicates that "this kind of mistake automatically disqualifies the applicant at the time of an interview for the visa.” And remember that "only one entry per person is allowed."

7. Is there a fee to participate in the green card lottery?

No. Participation in the lottery is free. So beware of scams.

8. How do you know if you win?

The State Department will send a letter through the US Postal Service in May 2017 with a package of instructions to explain requirements for obtaining a green card. In that correspondence, winners will receive a State Department website address to continue with the process. After registering, you will receive an email with further instructions.

9. How many people participate in the lottery each year?

In the last three lotteries, the State Department received an average of between 12 and 15 million applications:

  • 12,577,355 in 2013 (2016 lottery)
  • 14,633,971 in 2014 (2017 lottery)
  • 14,418,063 in 2015 (2018 lottery)

Applications received between October and November are drawn between January and March of the following year. Shortlisted candidates are notified between May and July and the winners can enter the United States after the start of the next fiscal year, which begins October 1.
10. Can undocumented immigrants take part?

They can, but if they win they will not receive the green card. The regulation states that once awarded one of the 55,000 residencies, the winner must leave the country for consular processing. If an undocumented person leaves the United States and tries to get back in, they could face a 10 year-ban on re-entering the country.