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Raffle for a Green Card: The Diversity Visa Program

Donald Trump tweet

After a madman plowed a rented pick-up truck down a bike path along Manhattan’s Hudson River killing eight people and injuring several more in New York’s deadliest terror attack since September 11, 2001, President Donald Trump took to Twitter.  Yes, he took to Twitter.

In a November 1, 2017, tweet, President Trump declared that the terrorist truck driver entered the United States through the Diversity Visa Program and, again, reiterated his plan to shift the America’s immigration system to one that is merit based, rather than a “lottery,” or, yes, a raffle for Lawful Permanent Residence (the “Green Card”).

Political pundits quipped that the President was using the terror attack to advance an anti-immigration political platform.  Others, however, began asking what exactly the Diversity Visa Program is.  Is it really a lottery?  The simple answer: Yes, it is a lottery.  It is a random drawing where the winners step ahead of millions waiting in line for their turn to enter the United States under employment or family immigrant visas.

In 1990, former President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Immigration Act of 1990, which created the “Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery.”  The purpose was to develop a more diverse immigrant pool by allowing the State Department to offer 50,000 visas each year to immigrants from countries with historically low immigration rates to the United States.  According to State Department statistics, over 1,000,000 immigrants have entered the United States under the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery since its 1995 effective date.

Every year, individuals from across the world register, without charge, for the lottery through the State Department’s website.  The 50,000 visas are then distributed among six geographic areas, with no more than 3,500 to any single country.  Any lottery player who hails from a country that has had over 50,000 natives immigrate to the United States over the last five years is ineligible for program participation (i.e., Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom, and Vietnam).

Once all lottery participants are registered, the State Department conducts a randomized computer drawing and the lucky 50,000 are selected.

Once picked, the winner need show only that he or she has either (1) successfully completed a formal course of elementary and secondary education comparable to a high school diploma; or (2) at least two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform.  After a brief security check, the lottery winner is officially a Lawful Permanent Resident.  Yes, that’s all it takes.  Kind of crazy, huh?  It really is a raffle for a green card.

To register for the 2019 Diversity Visa Lottery, visit the State Department’s Diversity Visa Lottery Web Portal.  To learn more about the Diversity Visa Lottery Program or any other immigration matter, feel free to contact me, Raymond G. Lahoud, at