The U.S. Department of State has announced that it will open the Diversity Visa lottery registration for FY 2016 on Wednesday, October 1, 2014. The program allows nationals of states with historically low rates of immigration to the United States to obtain permanent residence (i.e., a green card) in the United States. Registration for the diversity visa (DV) program is free. On October 1, 50,000 immigrant visas will become available. The lottery may allow certain employees to obtain permanent work authorization, more quickly and at lower cost, when normal routes are unavailable.

Who is Eligible?

For FY 2016, all foreign nationals may be eligible except those who are natives of the following countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam. Foreign nationals who are natives of these excluded countries may still be eligible if 1) they have a spouse who was born in an eligible country, or 2) if their parents were born in an eligible country, through alternate chargeability to the country of nationality of their spouse or parent. The foreign national must have a high school education or its equivalent or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience to perform the job.

How to Apply?

Entries for the DV–2016 DV program must be submitted electronically at between noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT–4) on Wednesday, October 1, 2014, and noon, Eastern Standard Time (EST) (GMT–5) on Monday, November 3, 2014, on form DS-5501. It is recommended that applicants apply as soon as possible, as web traffic may slow the website and because the agency will not accept late applications. Note also that the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs will reject duplicate and incomplete entries.

Applicants must maintain a copy of the application confirmation and confirmation number. Applicants must also check the status of their applications on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website to verify if they have been selected, starting on May 15, 2015. This website will be the only manner in which applicants will be notified that they have been selected, and will provide instructions to selectees for completing their immigrant visa applications. The processing and issuance of immigrant visas to the selected applicants and their eligible family members must be completed by midnight on September 30, 2016–otherwise their eligibility will expire. The application instructions must be carefully followed; complete instructions can be found on the Department of State website. Applicants are cautioned to beware fraudulent websites and emails offering DV lottery assistance.

What Advantages Can the DV Lottery Provide Employers?

Normal procedures for employer-sponsored visas for certain foreign workers may be complex, expensive, or unavailable. Certain visa categories, like the H-1B professional visa, are subject to yearly caps that run out quickly. Other visa categories may be severely backlogged for nationals of certain countries, like India or China, or subject to intense scrutiny, like O-1 extraordinary ability or L-1B specialized worker visas. The DV lottery may provide a route to permanent residency and work authorization where none exists or a faster and less expensive route for those lucky enough to be selected. Since the DV immigrant visa is not employer-sponsored, it entails minimal cost to the employer if the employer assists the employee financially in the processing of the DV lottery application. Employers may want to hire counsel to assist the DV selectees in the timely processing of their applications in order to ensure that they are approved and issued before the deadline of September 30, 2016.