Why millions of green card lottery applications get rejected yearly

Most of the 6 million applications processed annually by the U.S. are for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery program. There is no cost to enter the green card lottery, but millions of entries are disqualified each year. If you want a real chance of winning, you've got to be eligible for the program and make sure every detail of your application is accurate, complete and complies with the rules.

History of the green card lottery

Contemporary U.S. immigration law is designed to award most permanent resident visas (green cards) to applicants with close family members in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, to applicants with job skills in industries in which the U.S. desires more workers. This results in most green card holders hailing from a handful of countries. For example, green card recipients in 2009 were primarily from these four countries:

The U.S. established the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery program in 1990 to entice immigrants from places other than the most common home countries of U.S. immigrants. Through a lottery, the program awards up to 55,000 green cards annually.

(Immigrants eligible for the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act are allocated 5,000 of the diversity visas, so there are 50,000 diversity visas available to applicants from places other than Central America.)

In 1994, four years after the Diversity Visa program began, most green card lottery winners hailed from Western Europe (mainly Poland, the United Kingdom, Ireland and France); North and South America (mainly Canada and Argentina); Japan and Indonesia.

Today, about half of all green card lottery winners hail from African countries. Africans won 47,879 green cards in 2009. The second largest group of winners in 2009 was from Asian countries, and the third largest group was from Europe. Of the top 20 countries from which green card lottery winners hailed in 1994, only Germany remained in the top 20 in 2009, the U.S. Congressional Service reported. It was in 2009 that the service asked whether immigration diversity is still a U.S. goal and if so, should the lottery be replaced by a point system.

The bottom line is the report suggests that if the Diversity Visa program was established to primarily recruit immigrants from countries populated by people primarily of Western European descent, and if the program is no longer serving that purpose, then the program could eventually be changed or ended.

Who can enter the green card lottery?

Green card lottery entries are generally accepted online during the fall, two years before the drawing. For example, to be eligible for a diversity visa in 2015, you had to apply between Oct. 1, 2013 and Nov. 2, 2013. You must meet the following requirements to be eligible to receive a diversity visa:

Why millions of green card lottery applications are disqualified

Here's a real-world example of a green card lottery experience, posted by Niraj Agarwalla on a BritishExPats.com forum in 2003:

"My cousin's husband won the DV lottery last year, but was rejected because of a very flimsy reason-his college degree had his name misspelled. Is this grounds for a rejection?"

By all accounts, the answer is yes, a misspelled name on an application document can result in disqualification. Any error, omission or failure to comply with lottery rules or requirements can result in disqualification.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the following are common reasons green card lottery entries are disqualified:

Apparently, a quite common mistake among applicants is not listing a husband, wife or child. Listing all family members on your application doesn't mean they have to apply for a visa or travel to the U.S. But if you don't list a family member on your green card lottery entry and you later list them on your visa application, you'll be disqualified from the lottery and none of you will be eligible for a visa.

As demonstrated by Agarwalla's experience, even winning the lottery is not enough to ensure you will receive a diversity visa and be able to enter the U.S. Like all visa applicants, you must pass visa interviews; and like all visa holders, you must pass security checks at your point of entry:


In addition to making sure you're eligible to submit an entry for the green card lottery and submitting an accurate and complete application along with photos that meet the technical requirements, it may be helpful to note patterns among green card lottery winners:



US Department of State

USCIS. Immigration and Citizenship Data

USCIS Policy Memorandum

Entrant Status Check Website

The Diversity Lottery - A Deceptively Simple Program

Congressional Research Service