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Immigration to America: How I Won the Green Card Lottery

Tessa left her home country for Lesotho in 1973. Since then, she has travelled extensively and has no plans to stop.

The Green Card Is Actually Pink

This is what my green card looked like. It's actually pink. A green card is permittion to reside and work in America. This called permanent residence. It does not confer citizenship.

This is what my green card looked like. It's actually pink. A green card is permittion to reside and work in America. This called permanent residence. It does not confer citizenship.

Immigration to America: The Diversity Visa Lottery

It's reallhy difficult to immigrate to another country. America is one of the easiest countries in the world to legally immigrate to. That's because they have a diversity lottery and because family members can automatically immigrate to the States. No other country makes it that easy.

Generally, in order to immigrate to another country, you need a university education - preferably one that is highly sought after. Or you need a trade where that particular country is looking for artisans. Or you need about $1 million in order to set up a business there, with the commitment to employ a certain number of citizens.

I never had any of those qualifications. I didn’t have immediate family in the U.S. I didn’t have a few million dollars to start a business in order to employ Americans. I didn’t have a rare or highly-desired qualification, and I wasn’t a famous person with some rare talent. I also wasn’t a political refugee. These are some of the categories that immigration would rquire. It's common to most countries.

In general, it's far more difficult to immigrate to a first world country than it is to immigrate to a third world country.

In 2002, while living in London, I did win a green card in the Diversity Visa Lottery. I entered the lottery directly after 9/11 on the assumption that there was so much anger as a result of Bush going into Iraq that there would probably be a reduction in the number of entries for the 2003 intake. I don't know whether that was what happened or not, but I do know that, in April 2003, I received a letter from USCIS saying that I had won a green card in the Diversity Visa Lottery. Each year, the USA allocates somewhere between 50,000 and 55,000 green cards as a result of the lottery.

Shortly After Arriving in San Francisco in 2003.

My daughter and myself shortly after arriving in San Francisco in 2003.

My daughter and myself shortly after arriving in San Francisco in 2003.

Qualifications Required by Entrants

Of course, certain criteria are still needed to qualify to enter the Green Card Lottery. Firstly, you must have citizenship from a country that is allowed to enter the the lottery. Only those countries which have very few immigrants to the USA are permitted to enter. So, for instance, there are many Mexicans and Brits immigrating to the USA, so neither Mexican nor British citizens are allowed to enter the lottery. On the other hand, very few Germans, Australians, or South Africans immigrate to America, so they are allowed to enter the lottery.

It's probably easier to detail the countries which do not qualify to enter the lottery. They are Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland), and Vietnam.

Entrants need a high-school graduation certificate equivalent to the American high school diploma, plus two years work experience in some sort of trade. Alternatively, they need two years of experience in a particular trade. They can also have a two year college degree of some sort.

In addition to this, green card lottery winners will need either a job before they enter the States, or they must have a sponsor that is willing to sign for two or three years that if you get into financial trouble, they will foot the bills.

How to Submit an Entry Form for the USA Diversity Lottery

The Entry Date for the Lottery Changes Each Year.

The lottery is open for one month of the year. It is generally October, but that can change. So if you've been trying for several years to win the Diversity Lottery, you will need to check on the USCIS site what the entry period is.

Entries have to reach the Kentucky Immigration Office somewhere between the opening date and the closing date. The date on which the entry was sent is irrelevant. If the entry arrives before the relevant date or after the relevant date, the entry is disqualified. If you win, you should hear by April or May the following year.

Entry to the Diversity Lottery is Free

Entry is free, and entry forms can be found on the USCIS site. They should be completed with factual, accurate information. That information is verified at the subsequent interview.

There are various immigration attorneys and organisations who would be happy to submit the form for you - for a fee. It takes two or three minutes to complete. As the form takes two to three minutes to complete, there is no point in getting an attorney to submit the form for you. You also have no gurantee that they entered for you at all, or that they entered it during the correct time period.

There is no benefit to asking an attorney to complete the form for you, as your entry does not get picked up specially just because an attorney completed it. It can be argued that it might be a disadvantage to use an attorney as you pay them, and you have no guarantee of entry.

Walking You Through the Interview Process

Total Costs Once You Win

Make no mistake - there are costs to winning the lottery. You will pay, for example a substantial amount for medical tests and your air fare, and for your vacinations, your police certificate, and for the visa itself. The police certificate is to prove that you do not have a criminal record. Obviously, if you have a criminal record, you also will not be allowed entry.

If you have certain medical conditions, eg. AIDS, you will not be permitted entry. That's why they give you the medical tests. These tests are not administered by your own doctor. The US Consulate doctor conducts them.

After you have been notified of your win, it will take about another six months before they notify you that you have an appointment to see all the relevant staff at the Consulate.

At the interview you are asked for proof of qualifications, proof of work experience, and a police record for every country where you have lived. To reiterate,you will also need some vaccinations which the staff at the consulate will arrange for you. An appointment with a state doctor will be arranged for you, and you will be tested for various conditions.

If you have a partner and children, they will undego the same process.

Generally, the items listed below will be required at your interview.

Copy of the principal applicant’s selection letter for the diversity visa lottery from DOS

Copy of birth certificate

Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record

Two passport-style photos

Certified copies of court records (if the individual has been arrested)

Copy of the receipt from DOS for the diversity visa lottery processing fee

Applicable fees

This may also vary from year to year and you will need to check the website for the particular list of documentation required for the year in which you enter.

I think it's fair to say that it will cost you about $3000 a person in upfront costs. Of course, you will also need about six months capital to start up - purchase car, pay for rent, medical insurance, etc. If you have a job to go to, so much the better.

When checking on the website, make sure to go to the Consulate section and not the Embassy section. The Embassy represents America to other countries. The Consulate takes care of passports, etc.

There is an Arrive-By Date And Arrival Process

You will need to arrive in the United States by a particular date. It is generally eighteen months from the date you entered the Diversity Lottery. If you do not arrive by that date, your visa to enter the United States of America will be revoked.

Also, upon arrival you will be searched, and your luggage will be subject to a rigorous inspection when you arrive. Make sure you don't bring anything untoward with you.

You will need to apply for a social security card plus acquire a driver’s license or an official ID card after you arrive. Your green card will be sent to you in about three months. For the first few months, while you await the arrival of your green card, you will need to use the stamp in your passport to verify that you are a legal resident of the U.S.

Once your green card arrives, you will need to have it with you at all times while in the USA.

You will also need to redo your driver's licence as the USA does not exchange the licence of one country for another.

Green Card Limitations, Permanent Residence, and the Reality of Life in the U.S.

Immigrants with green cards are called permanent residents. They are not yet citizens. After five years, they can apply for citizenship. This involves a test and swearing allegiance to the USA.

There are three limitations to remaining a permanent resident. The first is that you do not qualify for various social welfare payments, the second is that you cannot vote, and the third is that you cannot travel freely outside the United States for any length of time without losing your green card. If you can afford to pay a few thousand dollars and give a good reason, you can remain outside the country for a period of up to two years. That would cost you somewhere between $2000 and $3000 per person.

Green cards have to be renewed every ten years. This means being fingerprinted (again) and paying a fee. You will also need to be photographed again. If you do not have sufficient money, you can apply for a reduced fee.

Two thirds of immigrants do not apply for citizenship. They stay on as permanent residents. Reasons for this include that some do not speak English and cannot pass the test in English, but the biggest reason given is the expense attached to the test.

No welfare or freebies are available for immigrants. America is not immigration friendly towards the poor. You will need sufficient resources to cover your own medical expenses as well as other emergencies.

There are also various protections, normally available in the first world, that are not available to either permanent residents or citizens in the USA. These include protections for workers, legal assistance, inexpensive or free medical services, etc. There is normally also a safety net in terms of finance available in other first world countries which is not available in the United States.

Percentage Chance of Winning a Green Card.

For many years, somewhere between 16 to 18 million people enter the green card lottery every year. Of that number, 50,000 people win. That means that you have a .3% chance of winning. In 2020, however, some 23 million people entered. This means that only .2% of entrants won.

I suspect that you'll win more easily if you put in qualifications that America is looking for and if you are resident in a first world country when you enter. I have no evidence for saying that, but while the lottery winners are selected randomly by computer, there is no statement that says that the criteria programmed into the computer doesn't focus more on one type of qualification or criteria than another.

Good luck with your entry.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Tessa Schlesinger

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