Diversity Visa Lottery: Read the Rules, Avoid the Rip-Offs
If you or someone you know is trying to get a green card - the right to live in the United States permanently - be on the lookout for unscrupulous businesses and attorneys. They'll claim that, for a fee, they can make it easier to enter the U. S. State Department's annual Diversity Visa (DV) lottery (also known as the "green card lottery") or increase your chances of winning the DV lottery.
Each year, the State Department conducts a lottery through its DV program to distribute applications for 50,000 immigrant visas. Winners of the lottery have a chance to apply for an immigrant visa, which can be used to enter the U. S. Winners are selected randomly, and there is no fee to enter the lottery.
Starting in 2003, entries to the DV lottery must be submitted online at www.dvlottery.state.gov. (This site is only accessible during the application period.) Paper entries or mail-in requests will not be accepted. Lottery entrants must include a passport-style digital photograph and separate digital photographs of any spouse and children under 21 years of age. Group photographs are not allowed. Check with the State Department for technical requirements of the digital photograph.
Entries are accepted for a limited time. For the DV-2005 Lottery (to be conducted in 2003), the application period is November 1, 2003, through December 30, 2003. Check with the State Department for entry dates for future DV lotteries.
Entrants may submit only one entry during any particular DV lottery; those who submit more than one entry will be disqualified. Spouses may submit separate entries, however, if each meets the eligibility requirements. If only one spouse is selected, the other may enter the country on the Diversity Visa of the winning spouse.
The DV lottery has two eligibility requirements:
Green Card Lottery Scams
According to lawyers at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, some businesses and attorneys misrepresent their services by saying that:
In addition, some companies jeopardize an entrant's opportunity to participate in the lottery by filing several entries. These companies also may charge lottery-winning applicants substantial fees to complete the application process.
A delay in processing a winner's application can ruin their chance for a green card because the State Department selects more winners than there are visas available. The State Department awards visas to winners on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition, a winning application is only valid for one federal fiscal year (October 1 - September 30): Winners of the DV-2005 lottery must apply for a visa between October 1, 2004, and September 30, 2005.
Protecting Yourself from Fraud
The FTC says the best way to protect against green card lottery scams is to understand how the State Department's lottery works.
For More Information
For details about the State Department's Diversity Visa lottery, visit www.travel.state.gov and www.unitedstatesvisas.gov. You also may call the State Department's Visa Services' Public Inquiries Branch at 202-663-1225. This number has recorded information with an option to speak with a visa specialist during normal business hours. Those overseas should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.