What Is the Green Card Lottery?

Officially called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, the Green Card Lottery is a lottery for people immigrating to, or already residing in, the United States from countries with low immigration rates, as stated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Every year the program makes 50,000 immigration visas available.

The U.S. Department of State holds the lottery every year and chooses winners randomly from entries that meet the qualifications, according to Green Card Lottery. To qualify for the lottery, a person must be born in an eligible country --one that has less than 50,000 immigrants to the United States annually -- and must meet the education and training requirements. If a person was born in an ineligible country but her spouse or both parents were born in an eligible country, then she qualifies for the lottery. The U.S. State Department determines what countries are eligible and publishes a list of countries that are allowed to participate before the lottery. As of 2015, the list has not changed much in the last 10 years.

Most lottery winners reside outside the United States and immigrate once they receive the visa, as reported by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A few of the lottery winners are already living in the United States in a nonimmigrant or other legal status. Interested parties can apply through the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services.