US Diversity Visa Lottery (aka Green Card Lottery) from the perspective of one Aussie winner: Hi Peeps, I’m Nicole from Brisbane and I was one of the lucky winners of the green card lottery.
On this page
So what is the Green Card (Diversity) Lottery?
Essentially the United States give out 55,000 permanent residency allowances (“Green Cards”) per year. The purpose of the lottery (which is in the title) is diversity and is meant for countries with low immigration rates to the US (such as Australia). Because of this, there are some countries like the UK that are excluded from applying due to having consistently high rates of immigration.
Starting the Green Card Permanent Residency process
I’m just going to start by saying that if you are interested in applying for the green card lottery, you should definitely check out http://www.britsimonsays.com
I only found this website after I received notification I was through to the next round of processing, and I wish I had found it sooner because he will help you apply from the very beginning. Simon is a Brit (obviously) who won the green card lottery and now lives in California with his family. He works full-time and has kids, but started this website to help others succeed in the green card lottery in his free-time, which is absolutely amazing. It’s an incredible resource!
Important note: Please don’t be like thousands of others who ask absolutely ridiculous questions when the answer is easily found on his website! I cringe for him when I read some of the questions, but it’s also really amusing.
Seriously though, read the frequently asked questions to start and do a search if you have a specific question, chances are someone else has already asked it.
Can I apply and how do I apply for a Green Card?
Trying to write this in February is a really bad idea because last year’s lottery (DV-2019 at the time of writing) is still active, meaning there is currently no information available about next year’s (DV-2020). My recommendation is to start doing research commencing mid-May to see whether there are updates about the upcoming lottery.
The website to apply is https://dvprogram.state.gov/
Just to be clear, entering the lottery is absolutely FREE. If a website tells you that they can submit you for one or two years for a fee, you’re in the wrong place. I don’t believe they are scams, but you don’t need them as it’s super simple to apply on your own.
If you are reading this and you’re Australian, you should definitely be able to apply. I have never seen Australia listed on the “non-eligible to apply” list. If you are a UK citizen for example, but your parents were born elsewhere, you have dual citizenship, or your spouse is from an eligible country then you may be able to apply through the other country., This information is listed on the website when you find the “instructions to apply” section in a PDF.
Generally speaking, applications are open for a short and limited few weeks or months, and several months later you check the status of your application. For DV-2019 the dates were October 18 2017 at 12pm (GMT-4) through to November 22 2017 at 12 pm (GMT-4). It needs to be noted, however, that there was an anomaly this year. The application period was opened earlier (around 4 October 2017) and was stopped and restarted on 18 October. The website says that the reason for this restarting of the process was “in order to ensure fairness and protect the integrity of the process for all those concerned.” This is very unusual and is unlikely to be repeated. So generally the dates are early October to early November.
For DV-2019, the date you can check your application status is May 15, 2018. Again this is later than usual because of the later commencement date. So expect that this date will be around, May 3, 2019, for DV-2020.
All you need to do is fill in a form on the above website during the application period, it really is that easy. The most tedious part is that you need to upload a photo (unless the process has changed since I applied) and they are strict about the picture (think how painful they are about passport photos). Things like you must have both ears showing, no shadows etc. are important but can take some time to get right. I got my husband to take my picture standing in front of the door on my phone, so it doesn’t need to be professional, just try to follow the instructions or your application may be rejected. Additionally, the size requirements are painful. I had to find an online resize app to make it the correct size, but the website has a photo guide and you can submit the photo to see whether it meets the requirements; I recommend using this tool. Don’t do your application on the last day, I tried that once as I got back from overseas that day and couldn’t get the photo tool to work so I missed out applying that year. Who knows, I could have won earlier!
If you are married, you and your spouse can both submit an application and go with each other if either wins, so you have two chances of winning!
Checking your Green Card application
Your confirmation number is absolutely essential. If you’ve lost the number, you are going to be in a world of hurt trying to find out what it was. It’s really on you to make sure you don’t lose this number or you won’t be able to check whether you were successful. I saved it in my notes on my phone and also wrote it out on a piece of paper that I filed.
The website to check the status of your application is https://dvprogram.state.gov/ and you need your confirmation number, last/family name, and year of birth to check your status.
If you were unsuccessful, it’ll say that. Chin up and keep trying, my love.
If you were successful in getting through to the next round, a white electronic letter will appear saying that. So exciting, congratulations!
Round two of Green Card processing
So for me, I was chilling on the couch at night while my husband was at work, I remembered that it was May so it might be nearly time to check my status, I did a little Google search and found out it had been open for two days! I’ve gone through this process three times before, so I had low expectations. I opened it up on my laptop, found the note on my phone, typed in my confirmation number and a bloody white letter was there instead of the one line saying you weren’t successful.
I nearly died.
I think I stared in shock for a good minute. I then googled what it should look like if you are processed through to the next round to make sure I wasn’t being punk’d and then I text my husband telling him not to be alarmed but that we were through to the next round of processing.
Luckily it was my name picked out of the electronic hat and not my husbands because I would definitely not be writing this from my bed in New York City if that was the case – he wasn’t so keen on moving anymore. The secondary applicant or spouses green card is only valid if the primary green card holder enters the US. So my husband couldn’t use his green card if I chose to not use mine.
The next step requires you to fill out a much more detailed application document. Take care with this one and do it properly! They want everything. Names you have gone by previously, the names and details of your past relationships, every address you have lived at in the last ten years (if I recall correctly – it may have changed). Anytime you have entered the US and the dates (thank God I don’t throw away old passports), any US visa’s you have ever had (ESTA’s are visa waivers, so they don’t count).
My suggestion is that you go back to the guide at http://www.britsimonsays.com and read everything you can about this second document. He has spelled out what you need to do. My recommendation is that you open the document, write down everything you need to fill in, and go and gather that information. Don’t sit down to fill it in until you have all of that information or you’ll be stopping and starting a number of times.
It is imperative that you complete this second document as quickly as possible because you won’t be allocated an interview date with the consulate until it has been submitted.
[Quick note from America Josh: The DS-260 that you will be filling in is a long and complicated document, and can be used as evidence for your planning to migrate to the US in the future. If you do not get an interview and later try to apply for a non-immigrant visa (e.g. E3 visa) you may be denied based on this DS-260. SO, make sure you follow the advice of BritSimonSays and don’t fill that document in unless you’re sure you’re going to get an interview]
I ticked yes to the question whether I wanted my social security card to be automatically sent out to me (after you activate the visa etc). Mine arrived in the mail, my husband’s never did. Apparently, this is normal, you just need to go into a social security office once you arrive if this happens to you.
You will also have been provided a number with your status. Australia sits in the Oceania region, so your number will be something like OC00309. Meaning that your number is Oceania 309. Mine was somewhere in the 300s. 300 is a very low number (explained on britsimonsays) as Oceania receive around 1000 green cards, so you have been pulled out quite early from the electronic hat. Based on predictions from britsimonsays, I believed I would receive an interview in around November. Which I did. Again, you need to submit your second application form before you’ll be allocated an interview so get to it! My husband and I both had to submit an application form, me as the primary applicant, and him as the secondary.
Preparing for the Green Card Interview
The interview occurs at the US consulate, so we had to travel from the Gold Coast to Sydney to attend the interview in November.
There are a number of documents you need before your interview such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, change of name certificates, degrees etc. You must have originals. Some countries require that you prove that you won’t become a public charge (welfare recipient) and that you can afford to move to the US. I brought along bank account statements with my savings, they weren’t even looked at, but I recommend you have this anyway, just in case.
The biggest pain in the arse, and expense prior to the interview, is the full medical that you require. There is a list that you are provided of very specific medical centers that will do the full medical for US immigration, we were living on the Gold Coast and had to drive to Brisbane on a weekday to go to one. I believe there is at least one in every state. It is not cheap. I can’t remember exactly how much but I think it was over $900 for both of us. It involves a full medical questionnaire, a urine test, a blood test, a chest x-ray, and possibly other things that I’ve forgotten.
The timing here is key, you don’t want to do this too early as you need to activate the visa in your passport (more on that in a minute) within six months of your medical. But you also can’t put this off too long as the results need to be received by the consulate prior to your interview. I think because there was a delay with my husband’s blood test I had to drive to Brisbane again to pick up the envelope on the Friday. We were flying to Sydney on the Monday and we took the results with us to the Consulate appointment just in time. I had planned for them to mail it to Sydney and bought the prepaid envelope for this to happen, but because of the test delay we nearly ran out of time. As I said, fine line. You’ll need to work this out with the medical center and discuss how long things take on their end and factor in delays around re-testing.
Attending your Green Card Appointment
(I am going to cheat as I wrote this on britsimonsays’ interview experience page on 8 November 2016. On the upside, it was written at the time so will be accurate).
You have to pay a green card lottery application fee of $330USD per person at the consulate. My understanding is that you have to pay this fee even if you aren’t successful in passing the interview.
My case number was Oceania 3**, had my interview scheduled for 9.15am this morning in Sydney. The following occurred:
Walked to the interview, left my electronics including watch and phone in my suitcase at the hotel, so I’m not 100% about the time, but I think we arrived at the consulate about 8.50am. We went to the building yesterday so we knew where we were going and wouldn’t get lost when it mattered. Clicked this fancy TouchPad near the lifts which said “US embassy”. It then announces lift E. So we went into lift E, no buttons, it just goes straight up to 10. Got out, walked towards the right past a doctor and dental clinic and saw the security section. A security guard asked if we had mobile phones, we said no as we’d followed the instructions and left them at our hotel. He seemed surprised. We went inside to the left to a table with two people. We were asked to hand over our paperwork. They did my husbands first and then mine. She took all of the paperclips off my paperwork (holding the original and copy together) and took only one of the photos and put them all into a clear sleeve each with the passport open to the photo page with one of the photos at the front. She gave me my resumé (which the Consulate documents from the US site listed as a requirement) and gave everything else not on the list they email you back to me. She took my bank and tax documents (I think for proof of no public charge) and put them in the slip. She handed us these and we walked a few meters to go through the metal detector. The security guard made a big deal about electronics and didn’t seem to believe me when I said I had none. We went through, asked to take anything I would need at the consulate from my bag and they took it and put it in a cubby and gave us a ticket with a number to collect later. We sat down and waited for the lift. A security guard told us it was here, so we got in and went up to the consulate floor. We got out, went to a window counter to the right, where a man asked for passports. We handed them over and he asked what time our appointment was, I said 9.15. He said to go through the door to my right, take a ticket for the visa right in front of you and sit down and wait for our number to be called.
We went inside, took a ticket, and sat down. We were waiting maybe 6 minutes and were called to a window where we handed over plastic sleeves with documents. The lady asked for my fingerprints, four fingers together on right hand, then left, then both thumbs together. Then my husband’s. She tore off the slip at the bottom of the document list they email you and told us to go to the cashier at counter 8 to pay the fee and then come back to her counter. We did. I imagine she must have gone through the documents while we were gone. She handed me the non-necessary ones and said “take a seat and your number will be called for your interview”. We sat back down and maybe 7 minutes later we were called over the speaker to counter one.
I was expecting a sit-down interview, but again it was at a counter behind glass. The guy asked us to take an oath holding up our right hand. He asked me whether I’ve applied for the DV lottery before, I said this was my fourth time from memory, he laughed and said fourth time the charm. He asked me what my highest level of education was and I said I have two bachelor’s degrees. He typed this in. He asked whether we had any children and I said no. He asked whether we have lived anywhere else aside from Australia for more than a year and I said no. He said your visa is approved, expect it via courier in the next week.
It all took about 30 minutes. Maybe even slightly less. I brought a book with me and read maybe one page.
After the Green Card Interview
They keep your passport while they put the visa in and mail in back to you in the envelope you paid for and brought with you to the interview.
You have six months from the date of your medical to activate your green card. Meaning you physically have to enter the US within that period to have the visa activated. Again this is an important timing thing. Once you activate your visa, you will have one year from the date of entry until the visa in your passport expires. What this means is, the US understand that after you activate the visa, you’ll need to go home and get your affairs in order, sell your house, your belongings etc, before you permanently move to the US and they give you a year to do this. So as long as you enter the US on the visa within that year period, there should be no questions asked by homeland security when entering the US again.
You will have to pay another fee, a green card fee, which is I think another $220 per person. I suggest you do this before you activate the visa. I didn’t and trust me, it’s just easier. So once you activate the visa, your green card will be mailed out to the address you listed on your application (the one after you were processed through to the next round). Don’t fret, you can change this address when you enter the US to activate the visa (I did).
We activated 18 April 2017, two days before the visa in our passport expired (based on the date of the medical). Because you don’t have an ESTA, when you try and check in for your flight, you’re going to be asked to see a staff member. Tell them you have the visa and show it to them. The lady was concerned we couldn’t enter with only two days left on the visa but was told it was fine by a superior. I was expecting the third degree when we arrived in America (LA) but it all went smoothly. You go through the US resident citizen queue, they will want you to use the electronic machine, but you can show them your paper visa, and they will instead get you to line up. When you get to the Homeland Security officer, tell them you are activating your immigrant visa and they’ll call someone to come and collect you. They walk you down to another area, where you are asked where you want the green cards sent.
I don’t know how much of this is the same now, but the process was relatively smooth when we arrived.
Your green card will be mailed to your nominated US address in a few weeks/months. Do not get it mailed to Australia because you certainly don’t want it getting lost internationally.
Permanently entering the US on a Green Card
Given that all Australian passports have a chip these days, you don’t have to hand up your departing passenger card to an immigration officer which makes things easier. I think I wrote citizen departing permanently on the card though. Again because of the no ESTA, I had to see a staff member again. Hand them your green card, they need to input the green card number into the system to void the ESTA requirement.
Then the fun bit happened.
I was directed to the bag drop line and there are two people with clip boards standing in the queue. I was told that because I was going to America I had to talk to them. The lady was free so I was directed there. She asked me the purpose of my trip and I said I was moving to the US. She then asked me a number of questions about my visa/green card, where I was planning on staying, whether I had employment, what the address of where I was going to live when I first arrived was, the name of my boss in Australia and the name of the organization I worked for. It was super fun. She was satisfied and put a tick in my passport. I asked what the questions were about and she said it was a new process implemented for anyone traveling to, or moving to, the US.
Where am I now?
I moved to NYC on 24 December 2017. My husband decided not to come with me, so he is back in Australia and I am living with roommates in Brooklyn. It’s not an ideal scenario for a married couple, but sometimes you just have to take the leap if you have dreams that don’t match your significant others. We talk every day, and thankfully there is Skype, Whatsapp, and Facebook. He’s coming to visit me after the Commonwealth Games. There are tax implications once you become a US permanent resident, and since my husband isn’t planning on moving to the US, he’ll have to renounce his green card before Homeland Security start the process to have it taken off him. He is still within the year period of activation though, being 18 April 2018, so maybe he’ll change his mind.
I cannot comment on applying for a green card while you are in the US on a visa. I know people are concerned that applying for the green card lottery will put their visa in jeopardy as they have said they have no intention of staying in the US thus receiving a visa, and applying for the green card lottery is in contradiction to this intention, so it’s important that you get good advice from a professional.
Who knows, you could be another lucky Aussie winner!
Hello, well told, I sent a request for a green card. But how did you track the status of the green card. As I read there are 2 options, maybe more. 1st online, 2nd through seas. But I do not understand where the barcode is, or what needs to be written. Can someone explain, here I read:Tracking your green card status
When filling out the second round of applications did you have to wait until the start of the fiscal year (October 1st) that your greencard was allocated for?
I have been selected but I have spoken to lawyers that I should not submit anything further until October 1st as I will be disqualified.
There is a section in the instructions that backs that up (q30) that states…
“If you are selected in the DV-2019 program, you are entitled to apply for visa issuance only during U.S.
government fiscal year 2019, which is from October 1, 2018, through September 30, 2019. We encourage
selectees to apply for visas as early as possible, once their program rank numbers become eligible”
It seems straightforward but I have haven’t been able to find anyone who has been through the program to back that up. Everyone says “apply straight away.”
If you could share any light at all on this I would be hugely grateful.
Thanks so much!
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First off – Welcome to America! 🙂
Secondly – Thank you for sharing your story & doing so with such detail!
I’m an American with disabilities & have two wonderful Australian friends who may try to move here to help me. I’m not sure if their best bet is to apply for the lottery or perhaps a work visa as they’ll be considered caretakers, but reading your story definitely gave me a better idea of the expense, time line, & work involved to get them here, so again, thank you!
I hope the US is all you’d hoped for & more. As a Central NYer, I have to add this part…
Please keep in mind, NYC is wonderful, but the rest of the state is wondeful too. Plus, the further upstate you go, the cheaper the cost of living tends to be, especially housing. 😉
Anyway, thanks again. I wish you & your husband much luck & a very happy, healthy future! 🙂
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This is a wonderful account, thank you. Quick question – clearly the US expects you to settle there within a year of initial entry, but would the visa allow you to return to Australia for any period? What are the consequences to your US status?
Hi Hopeful! So yes, once you have a Green Card you are permitted to leave (without doing anything) for up to 6 months. You can get permission to leave for up to one year and in some cases two as well.
Amazing story! So does that mean if you are on an E3 visa you can jeopardize the visa by applying for GC lottery?
From all my research, applying for the lottery does not impact your E-3 but winning and then proceeding with the GC can (and likely would).