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Green Cards and Permanent Residence in the U.S.

Learn how to get a Green Card to become a permanent resident, check your green card case status, bring a foreign spouse to live in the U.S. and what documents you need when traveling back to the U.S. Also, find out how to enter or check your results for the Diversity Visa Lottery program.

On This Page

  • Apply for, Renew, or Replace a Green Card
  • Authenticate Documents
  • Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Program
  • Sponsor a Foreign Spouse, Future Spouse, or Relative
  • Travel Documents for Foreign Residents Returning to the U.S.

Apply for, Renew, or Replace a Green Card

  • Gives you official immigration status in the United States
  • Entitles you to certain rights and responsibilities
  • Is required if you wish to naturalize as a U.S. Citizen

Apply for a Green Card

  • Find out if you’re eligible.
  • If you are eligible, file Form I-485 – Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with USCIS, including all supporting documents and fees.
  • USCIS will review your application and schedule an interview with you.
  • Once issued, your Green Card will be valid for 10 years.

Renew or Replace a Green Card

Learn how to renew or replace your Green Card:

  • Renew your Green Card if your current card expired or will expire in the next six months.
  • Replace your Green Card for a number of reasons, including loss or theft.

Check Your Case Status

  • Go online to check the status of your case using your receipt number.

Beware of Scams

If you are not familiar with the immigration, visa or Green Card process, scammers will try to take advantage of you by getting your personal information or your money. Learn about common immigration scams and identity fraud. You can also file a complaint in your state.

Authenticate Documents

You may need to present a legal document issued in the United States for use in another country. These documents can include court orders, contracts, vital records, and educational diplomas. To verify signatures, stamps, or seals on these documents, they must be authenticated.

The process to get a document authenticated depends on the specific document, the state in which it was issued, and other factors. Check with your state’s document authentication agency. Also, visit the Authentications and Apostilles pages from the Department of State (DOS).

For more information, details on a procedure, or status, call the DOS Office of Authentications at 1-202-485-8000. Phone hours are from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Appointment hours are from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET, Monday through Friday.

Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Program

The United States’ Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Lottery program allows for up to 50,000 immigrant visas to be awarded each year. It gives foreign nationals of countries that have low rates of immigration to the U.S. an opportunity to participate in a random drawing for the potential of getting an immigration visa. Check the State Department’s DV lottery site to learn more about the program.

Eligibility Requirements

Also known as the Green Card lottery, the DV program makes a limited number of immigrant visas available every year to people meeting certain eligibility requirements:

  • You must be a foreign citizen from a country with a low immigration rate to the United States. Each year, the U.S. Department of State puts out a list of eligible and ineligible countries. The list of countries may change each year. See the 2022 DV lottery instructions for the most recent list.
  • You must have graduated from high school or its equivalent or have qualifying work experience.

Participating in the Lottery

The lottery is open once a year, usually for 4 to 5 weeks in the fall.

  • Online registration for the 2022 Diversity Visa Lottery began on October 7, 2020 at 12:00 PM ET, and ended on November 10, 2020 at 12:00 PM ET.
  • If you qualify for a Green Card, 2022 is the year you can enter into the United States.
  • Complete the online application for the lottery. It is a web form only and cannot be downloaded. There is no charge for registering.
  • Keep your confirmation number in a safe place; you will need that number to check the status of your entry online. If you lose it, you can recover your confirmation number.

For help, review the DV lottery instructions or watch a State Department video on how to submit an entry.

DV Lottery Results

  • Results for the 2021 DV lottery are available. The 2021 results are available through September 30, 2021. The 2022 results will be available beginning May 8, 2021 through September 30, 2022.
  • Make sure you have your confirmation number to check your application status. You can only check your status by going online. The State Department will not send you a letter or an email about winning a Green Card. See the fraud warning below.

If You Are a DV Lottery Winner

If you are selected through the random lottery drawing, you can move forward in applying for an immigrant visa (Green Card).

  • Submit your visa application, DS form 260.
  • Prepare for your interview.
  • If you have a question about your interview, call the Kentucky Consular Center, 1-606-526-7500, 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM ET.

Fraud Warning

The State Department wants DV lottery participants to know about scams involving fraudulent email and letters sent to DV program applicants. The U.S. government is the exclusive operator of the DV program. It may send you an email reminding you to check the status of your entry, but it will not contact you by email or letter to let you know if you are a winner. You have to check online yourself. The U.S. government will also never ask you to pay for your visa in advance by wire transfer, money order, or check.

Sponsor a Foreign Spouse, Future Spouse, or Relative

Your status determines who you can bring (sponsor) to live and work in the United States.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor:

Certain immediate relatives, such as parents or siblings

If you are a permanent resident, you can sponsor:

If you are a refugee or asylee within the past two years, you can petition for certain family members to obtain refugee or asylee status.

If you or a member of your family is in the U.S. military, you may petition for citizenship for family members.

Travel Documents for Foreign Residents Returning to the U.S.

You may need additional documents to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad if:

You are a foreign citizen living in the U.S. or

You have a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)

These necessary documents should be obtained before your trip. You can get them from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Permanent and Conditional Residents

If you’re absent from the U.S. for one year or longer:

For permanent residents, the re-entry permit is valid for two years from the date of issue.

For conditional residents, it is valid for up to two years.

If you’re absent from the U.S. for less than one year:

No additional document is required.

Show your Green Card upon your return.

All Other Foreign Citizens Living in the U.S.

Contact USCIS and your country’s embassy or consulate for all document requirements.

Note: If you need a travel document, but left the U.S. without obtaining one, contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for assistance:

United States: Call 1-800-375-5283; for TTY dial 1-800-767-1833

Do you have a question?

Ask a real person any government-related question for free. They’ll get you the answer or let you know where to find it.

Learn how to get a Green Card to become a permanent resident, check your green card case status, bring a foreign spouse to live in the U.S. and what documents you need when traveling back to the U.S. Also, find out how to enter or check your results for the Diversity Visa Lottery program.

How the Green Card Lottery Really Works

A green card, which is issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), lets you live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.   While there are several avenues to getting a green card, including through family, employment, or status as a refugee or asylee, not everyone qualifies. Even if you do qualify, wait times under certain family or job status categories can be as long as 20 years. If you do not qualify—or if you want to “roll the dice” while waiting—the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program popularly known as the green card lottery might be for you.

What Are Your Chances?

The DV program issues 50,000 immigrant visas annually, based on the results of a random drawing.   The visas are apportioned among countries with “historically low rates of immigration to the U.S.”

For fiscal year 2021, the most recent figures available, more than 23.2 million people applied to the green card lottery.   The first 50,000 to register, after notification, were the “winners” for that year. The reason for drawing more than 50,000 names is that not everyone selected will start the green-card application process, and some who do will not complete it.

Key Takeaways

  • The DV program issues 50,000 immigrant visas annually, based on the results of a random drawing.
  • You must be eligible by country as well as by education or work experience.
  • The online registration period for the DV Program typically runs between Oct. 1 and Nov. 3 each year.
  • It is free to enter the lottery.

Who Is Green Card Eligible?

Before registering for the green card lottery, you should determine if you are eligible. You must be eligible by country as well as by education or work experience.

Country

Diversity visas go to natives of selected countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States in six geographic regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, plus South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The list of countries is subject to change each year and appears on the Diversity Visa entry instructions.

If you were not born in an eligible country, you may still qualify for the DV program if your spouse was born in an eligible country, both of you are named on the same entry, and both of you intend to enter the U.S. at the same time.

Also, if you were born in an ineligible country—but neither of your parents was born in or legal residents of that country at the time of your birth—you may still qualify, assuming one of your parents was born in an eligible country.  

Education or Work Experience

In addition to eligibility based on country of birth, you must also meet certain education or work experience requirements in order to register for the green card lottery. Basically, this means that you must have a high school education (or equivalent) or two years’ experience within the past five years in a qualifying occupation.   The U.S. Department of Labor’s O*Net Online database can be used to determine if your work experience is sufficient.

When to Register

The online registration period for the DV Program typically runs between early October and November each year.   You should register as early as possible once it opens. If you wait until the end of the sign-up period, you could miss out due to heavy website traffic. Late entries will not be accepted.

Where and How to Register

Registration for the green card lottery is done online using the English-language version only. Although your application must be done in English, detailed instructions in a variety of languages are available by following the link to the instructions referenced above.

It’s important that you read the instructions carefully, noting all required documentation including your passport number, photos, and so forth. The U.S. State Department video tutorial on registering for the green card lottery explains the steps as well.

Buyer Beware

There are plenty of scammers out there ready to take your money in exchange for useless or even harmful information. You may run across private websites (many of them look legitimate) that offer everything from tips on winning the green card lottery to secrets to help you “game the system.” Some even offer to help you apply—all for a fee, of course. You may also receive fraudulent emails, letters, and other types of communication that try to convince you that you have been selected as a lottery winner.  

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Entering the green card lottery is free.
  • The drawing is random and by computer.
  • You can only find out whether you have won by going to www.dvlottery.state.gov (typically beginning May 1).
  • If you win and are permitted to apply, you will have to pay a fee, but that will be in person at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

If you feel you do need professional help with the application process, the USCIS provides many helpful resources. This includes ways to spot con artists, as described above.

Winning the green card lottery does not guarantee you a green card; it grants you the opportunity to apply for one.

Increasing Your DV Odds

Even though you are entering a random drawing, there are a couple of legitimate (and free) things you can do to increase your chances of winning. Both you and your spouse—if both are eligible—should apply. This gives you two chances to win, as opposed to one. If one of you wins, the other can ignore his or her application and enter as a derivative spouse.

As there is no limit on the number of eligible members of the same family that may apply, your children should also enter if they meet the educational or work experience requirements. You should note that if one of them wins, they will not be able to bring you to the U.S. immediately, but will be able to start a process that could get you there eventually.  

Winning a Diversity Visa

Winning the green card lottery does not result in your automatically getting a green card in the mail. If you are lucky enough to win, all it means is that you may have won the opportunity to apply for a green card. You can find out if you are a lottery winner on or after May 8 by going to the DV Entrant Status Check link online.   If you have won, you will be directed from there to a confirmation page with further instructions.

Waiting List

As roughly 125,000 names are drawn, with only 50,000 eligible to actually receive a green card, everyone whose name is drawn is put on a waiting list and given a number.   If your waiting list number is high, and there are 50,000 people ahead of you who have also successfully completed their paperwork, you won’t get a chance to apply, let alone receive a green card.

Currently Living in the U.S.

If you currently live in the U.S. under a non-immigrant or another type of legal status, the process you will follow—should you win the lottery and be allowed to apply for a green card—is through USCIS.

Currently Living Outside the U.S

The vast majority of green card lottery winners live outside the United States and follow a process called consular processing.  

The Bottom Line

Because applying for the green card lottery is free, even if you are “in line” waiting for your green card through another avenue, you may want to consider applying for the lottery, just in case. Even though it’s a lottery, it follows strict rules, which are outlined in the instructions. Read them carefully before applying. You can only apply once per year, so you don’t want to be disqualified from achieving your dream due to a simple application error.

Learn the processes behind the U.S. State Department's Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program—also known as the green card lottery. ]]>