Immigration:The Green Card Lottery

Each year, the United States government makes approximately 50,000 immigrant visas available through its lottery system. Section 203 (c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 USC) makes the visas available for persons from countries with low rates of immigration to live as permanent residents in the United States.

Many Guyanese are unaware of the Visa Lottery programme and many of those who do are not persuaded of its legitimacy. This combimation of ignorance and skepticism may account for the fact that only seventeen Guyanese won visa lotteries in 2007 while other countries in the Caribbean such as Trinidad and Tobago had 85 lottery winners this year.

Natives of countries that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States over the past five years are ineligible to enter the visa lottery programme. Guyana’s much lower rate of immigration means that Guyanese are eligible to enter the visa lottery. Significantly, however, relatively small numbers of Guyanese usually apply for the lottery.

United States visa lottery winners become eligible to live permanently in the United States and to secure employment there. Winners are also allowed to bring their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 to the United States with them.

Responsibility for the lottery falls under the purview of the United States State Department. The lottery is held annually and winners are selected randomly from amongst qualified applicants. Since it is likely that some of the first 50,000 persons who are selected will not qualify for visas or pursue their cases to visa issuance, more than 50,000 entries are selected to ensure that all of the allocated visas are issued. However, this also means that there will not be a sufficient number of visas for all those who are initially selected. Once 50,000 visas are issued or the fiscal year ends, the lottery is closed. Accordingly, persons selected under the lottery system must be prepared to act promptly on their cases – random selection by the Consular Center computer does not automatically guarantee that you will receive a visa.

Each year millions of applications are rejected on account of failure to properly comply with application procedures.

Applicants who are selected are usually notifed of their selection and of their place on the list of selected applicants by mail during the following year. Subsequently the Consular Center will send appointment letters to selected applicants four to six weeks ahead of the scheduled interviews with the Uunited States Embassy in that country. Visa number availability permitting, visas are issued each month.

The current visa lottery – for the fiscal year 2009- is already open and applicants are required to submit their applications electronically before midday on December 2. Persons selected for visas in the 2009 lottery are entitled to apply for immigrant visas which will be issued in that year.

Eligibility rules for the United States visa lottery include being a native of a qualified country, meeting a minimum educational or training requirement. This requirement includes possession of a High School Diploma or its equivalent which, under the rules of the lottery is defined as successful completion of a 12-year course of elementary and secondary education or two years of work experience within the last five years in an occupation the performance of which requires at least two years of training or experience.

Eligibility rules also include the requirement that the applicant or his or her spouse must be a native of a country that is eligible to participate in the Diversity Visa Lottery. In circumstances where persons are born in ineliglble countries they may also be eligible to apply if a parent was born in an eligible country and was not a resident of the country of the applicant’s birth at the time of his or her birth, Prospective applicants may also be able to claim nativity in the country of birth of one of their parents.

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