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Is this the End of America's Green Card Lottery?

25 June, 2013 12:43  Erin Erin

immigration control © TMAX - Fotolia.comThe Green Card Lottery in the USA has been a contentious route to US citizenship for many years. Among the concerns with the current system are the many agencies that prey on hopeful immigrants, the brutally small percentage of applicants that earn the visa, and major glitches in the process. Most notably, we covered a Green Card Lottery glitch in 2011 that resulted in over 22,000 applicants erroneously being told that they had been selected for further processing when they had not.

Obviously, the system is not perfect and is under threat once again. New legislation that would create a path to US citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants and strengthen security at the US - Mexican border would also eliminate the Diversity Visa. These slots would be absorbed into a broad system that would emphasize skills, education and other criteria for legal immigration.

How exactly does the Green Card Lottery work?

The way the system works is literally a bit of a toss-up for wannabe immigrants. While Green cards may be issued through a family member, employment, investment, refugee or asylum status, the registry provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or approved by the Director of Central Intelligence - people without a current connection to the United States may try to win a spot through the Diversity Lottery. Aimed at diversifying the pool of immigrants to the United States, about 50,000 winners are selected each year to receive a United States Permanent Resident Card. Benefits include permission to reside and be employed in the USA, and eventually become a US citizen. GreenCard © Marcus Kretschmar - Fotolia

Applicants must be from a qualifying country and meet eligibility criteria which change every year. One application may be made per year, and if you are not selected you must re-apply the next year. All applicants must submit their applications via the State Department's website.

The chances of winning this visa are extremely limited. For those 50,000 visas there are usually over 8 million applicants! On top of this, no single country can receive more than 7 percent of the total number of visas (3,500). In addition, countries that sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the US in the past five years are excluded from the lottery. To make sure all visas are fulfilled, about 100,000 names are selected in a first round, and then whittled down into the final 50,000 slots. This is an extremely trying process that is both costly and exhausting for the applicants, and for the US government.

Issues with the Green Card Lottery

The program was begun in 1995 and was intended to offer a more diverse immigrant group to the States. The bill sought to offer an easier path for low immigration countries like those in Africa, Ireland, etc. It has succeeded in that Africans now make-up the majority of the green-card winners.

The Green Card Lottery has been consistently under fire from the Republican Party and those with a hard stance on immigration. The latest legislation is just the most recent attempt at closing the program. Charles Schumer (Democrat from New York) is part of a group of US Senators known as the "Gang of Eight" that are responsible for the latest immigration-reform legislation being considered in Congress. He and fellow Democrats have agreed to do away with the lottery in order to complete an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system as a whole. When examining some of the system's problems, it is not hard to see why it is unpopular with select members of government.

Among the helpful agencies that work with applicants of the Green Card lottery, there are many businesses that take advantage of people with scams and fraudulent advertising. Illegal websites designed to look like official government sites are common, and though some legitimate companies provide help filling out applications for a fee, they are not officially affiliated with the government. Note that there is no charge to download and complete the Electronic Diversity Visa Entry Form. It is recommended that applicants avoid giving money for lottery information or services and deal only with the U.S. government, but many people lose their chance and thousands of dollars each year.

Applying to Immigrate to the United States

For other methods and information on immigrating to the USA, check out our article on Obtaining a Visa to Live, Study and Work in: the United States of America. Also consult the visa section of our Guides to Immigrating to the USA, such as Passport, Visa & Permits in New York City.





The iimmigration reform bill, S.744 "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act", just passed through the Senate by a 68-32 margin. The Immigration Policy Center has a full summary here. It still must pass the house, but this is one step closer to ending the Green Card Lottery.


Share questions, comments, or personal experience in the comment section or within our expat forums such as Forum Immigration USA.



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Green Card Lottery [Reply]

Congratulations for a very well-written article.

I would only add this: the odds of the U.S. House of Representatives passing immigration reform (and hence eliminating the lottery) are very low due to the dysfunction inherent in today's legislative process. Our website at mygreencard.com has more information on the diversity visa lottery and a large database of free immigration-related reports and news.

  J. Stephen Wilso     25 Jun 2013, 21:36