I’ve been getting calls and emails recently from people who were lucky enough to win the US Department of State (DOS) green card lottery. However, once you win the DV 2011 visa lottery what comes next?

What is DV 2011 Visa Lottery?

The DV visa lottery, which is officially known as the diversity visa lottery, awards permanent residency (green cards) to approximately 50,000 lucky people from countries with low US immigration rates. After five years of permanent residency, those people may then apply for US citizenship via the naturalization process. The lottery winners for the DV 2011 program submitted lottery entries in the fall of 2009, where selected in the Spring of 2010, and may be allowed to apply for a green card some time between October 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011.

DV 2011 Visa Lottery Numbers

In the fall of 2009, approximately 12 million people worldwide applied for the 50,000 green cards available for the DV 2011 visa lottery program. Thus, there was less than a .5% chance of winning the DV 2011 Visa Lottery.  Although there are few requirements for obtaining a green card under the diversity visa program, the requirements that do exist are very strict. As such, organizers of the lottery choose approximately 100,000 people from the pool of 12 million to ensure that all 50,000 green cards in the program will be used. Each of those 100,000 people are assigned a number and sent a letter inviting them to apply; the first 50,000 people to interview and qualify will be issued a green card. Interviews will be scheduled based on lottery number. Of the remaining unlucky 50,000, some will apply and be rejected; those with numbers outside the interview range will miss the opportunity to apply before the green cards run out.

DV 2011 Visa Lottery Process

The diversity visa lottery program is sometimes difficult to understand as the dates are based on the last date in the fiscal year (October – September), rather than calendar year. Thus, green cards in the 2011 program are actually distributed between October 2010 and September 2011. Entries were made in the fall of 2009. Winning entries were picked in the Spring of 2010, and winners were notified between May 2010 and July 2010.

All DV 2011 visa lottery winners can interview at a US embassy or consulate abroad once their interview number is called.  However, some winners who are legally in the US can apply for adjustment of status to obtain the green card without leaving the United States. Whether one will be permitted to adjust status and, more importantly, whether one should apply to adjust status, is something that should be discussed with the immigration attorney prior to submitting an application.

Although it is always a good idea to hire a qualified immigration lawyer to handle a US immigration case, it is absolutely essential to do so when you win the DV visa lottery. Because all  processing must be completed by September 2011, errors or omissions in the initial application package can actually mean the end of your green card dreams. Since not everyone will be permitted to apply right when the window opens in October 2010, and interview slots are assigned according to DV number, some applicant numbers won’t be called until late summer of 2011, if at all. Applicants shouldn’t expect government officials to take pity on them and expedite their case or overlook errors simply because it must be completed by the end of September.  Hiring an attorney once you learn you’ve won can help minimize the chances that you’ll miss the deadline for qualifying for a green card.