The Green Card Lottery: How I became a U.S. Citizen

What is the Green Card Lottery: How I became a U.S. Citizen

I vividly remember when I first arrived in the United States in 1996 and someone asked me “Where are you from, you have an accent.” I replied “I am from Africa.” She then asked me “How did you get here?” This next question required multiple answers such as “I got here by air after 16 hours of flying then we drove from Logan Airport for an hour to Providence, Rhode Island” but I gave her the best answer that came to mind so I said “I won the lottery.” She said “Wow! You must be very happy.” And I replied “You have no idea how happy I am.” The next day while waiting for the bus I ran into the same person again and she said “You are the girl that won the lottery right?” I said “Yes.” She said “if you truly won the lottery why are you taking the bus? Where are your millions of dollar?” I was shocked as I thought to myself “what  does winning the green card lottery have to do with millions of dollars?” Is the U.S. government going to give me millions in addition to letting me move permanently to the United States? I later found out that to an American “winning the lottery” means something completely different than to an African whose dream is to live in America. In Africa if you tell anyone “I won the lottery” the next question is always “When are you travelling to America?”

What is the Green Card Lottery?

The green card lottery is an effort by the U.S. Congress to diversify the admission of immigrants into the United States of America. In order to ensure that admission of immigrants is not limited to only a few countries congress has taken many steps such as setting per-country limit to ensure that admission of immigrants is diverse. Despite these efforts by Congress immigrants are never admitted in equal numbers from all parts of the world. Therefore Congress enacted a permanent immigrant preference based on diversity and admits up to 50,000 “diversity immigrants” each year. Applicants of the green card are selected in a lottery and must meet strict but simple eligibility requirements. Diversity visa is distributed yearly among six regions and no country in each region may receive more than 7% of total diversity visa. So in the case of 50,000 visas, about 3,500 visas are available. The award of visa per region is based on a complicated calculation not discussed here and within each region there are further calculations per country and per states within the country to ensure that visa are granted to people with lowest immigration to the United States. Each year some countries do not qualify to apply for the diversity visa because “more than 50,000 natives of these countries immigrated to the United states in the previous five years.

Requirements for the Green Card Lottery

  1. You must be born in a country whose natives qualify or your country must be eligible to apply
  2. You must have high school education or equivalent which usually means that you must have two years of work experience within the past 5 years in an occupation requiring 2 years of training or experience to perform

Countries Eligible for Green Card Lottery and Deadlines

For 2015 diversity lottery program the application began on October 1, 2013 and ended on November 2, 2013; therefore the application for 2015 green card lottery has already ended.

Below is a list of Countries not eligible to apply for the diversity lottery in 2015 because more than 50,000 of their natives immigrated to the United States in the past 5 years includes:

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

At this point, I do not have the list of countries that are ineligible to apply for 2016. If you are a native of a country not eligible to apply for the Green Card lottery, there are alternate ways to qualify to apply for the green card lottery.

For additional information on the green card lottery or other ways to get a green card, please contact our office at 602-535-2500 and speak with an immigration attorney who came to the United States through the green card lottery program and is now a U.S. Citizen.

About the Author:

Lelia Adams Essien is the managing attorney at Essien Immigration Law, which is located in Phoenix, Arizona. Lelia is very passionate about immigration law and helping other immigrants because she was once an immigrant. As an immigrant, she truly understands and can personally relate to the daily struggles facing many immigrants and their families in the United States. For more information about the author click on the link below:

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