Diversity Visas

Immigration and Nationality Act § 203(c) authorizes the diversity visa program. This program pursues people from countries underrepresented in the U.S. population. The diversity visa program provides an additional path to permanent resident status. Unlike the standard immigration process based upon a family or employment category, different rules apply to diversity visa applicants.

Diversity Visa Criteria

To become eligible for a diversity visa, an applicant must satisfy the following criteria:

  • be a native from a low-admission country during the fiscal year or prove eligibility for visa chargeability to a qualified nation,
  • (a) possess a high school education or equivalent education or (b) possess 2 years of work experience (within the 5 years before filing the visa application) in an occupation requiring at least 2 years training. 

Diversity Visa Petition

To apply for a diversity visa, a foreign national (“principal applicant”) may file a petition with the U.S. State Department. A foreign national may authorize another person to file a petition on her or his behalf. The U.S. State Department maintains a specific website for applicants to file their petition online. The State Department will announce a timeframe for applicants to file their online petitions for visa eligibility. An applicant must provide the required documents when filing the petition.  

In family and employment immigration, some foreign nationals may benefit from two approved petitions. However, the petition rules differ for a diversity visa applicant. Unlike family and employment-based applicants, the U.S. State Department will only accept one petition filed for a diversity visa applicant during a fiscal year. Indeed, filing two or more petitions in the same fiscal year will disqualify a visa applicant from the diversity program.  

During the lottery, if the random computerized process selects an applicant’s petition, the State Department will consider that petition approved. The State Department will notify the applicant regarding the petition approval and the next step in the process. The U.S. consulate will collect the visa lottery fee after petition approval.  

How Long May an Applicant Take to Apply for a Diversity Visa?

An applicant remains eligible for a diversity visa until the end of the fiscal year. In fact, 22 C.F.R. § 42.33(a)(1) prohibits a U.S. consulate from issuing a diversity visa after the fiscal year ends.

Consular Processing or Adjusting Status (I-485 Form)? 

After petition approval, diversity lottery winners living outside the U.S. may apply for the immigrant visa (DS-260 Form) and attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate.

Some applicants may have entered the U.S. in a nonimmigrant status (such as F-1, H-1B, L-1, etc.) before filing a diversity petition. After the petition’s approval, a foreign national in the U.S. may apply for status adjustment (I-485 Form) rather than consular processing. INA § 245 lists many reasons why USCIS may not grant permanent resident status to an I-485 applicant. These INA § 245 bars to adjustment also apply to diversity visa applicants. 

Does a Lottery Winner Need Labor Certification Approval?

U.S. law does not require labor certification approval for diversity visa applicants. INA § 212(a)(5)(A) does not apply to diversity visas. 

Are a Spouse and Children Eligible to Immigrate with the Principal Applicant?

The principal applicant’s spouse and children may obtain permanent resident status. When filing the online diversity petition, the principal applicant must provide biographical information about a spouse and children. Failing to list a spouse and children can cause a consulate to deny a visa or USCIS to deny an I-485 application.  Married children or children over age 21 do not qualify for status based upon a parent’s diversity visa.