The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery, is a United States government lottery program for receiving a United States Permanent Resident Card. The Immigration Act of 1990 established the current and permanent Diversity Visa (DV) program.
The lottery is administered by the Department of State and conducted under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It makes available 50,000 immigrant visas annually and aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States, by selecting applicants from countries with low numbers of immigrants in the previous five years. As of 2017, around 20 million people apply for the lottery each year.
Many fraudulent schemes purport to increase the likelihood of winning in the lottery, but in fact the only way to apply and win is to enter one's data into the State Department's website, free of charge.
Attempts have been made to end the program since 2005. In 2017, it received widespread attention after eight people were killed in a terrorist attack by a recipient of a diversity immigrant visa.
Starting in 1986, the United States established several temporary immigrant visa programs outside of the usual immigration preferences (family members or by employment). The first program was NP-5, run from 1987–89, where a limited number of visas was issued on a first-come, first-served basis. The second program was OP-1, run through a lottery from 1989–91 and available for natives of countries with low levels of recent immigration to the United States.The third program, AA-1, from 1992–94, was available for natives from a select group of countries that had been "adversely affected" by earlier immigration laws. Intentionally and in practice, people from Ireland and Northern Ireland benefited disproportionately from these programs. They were also known as the Donnelly, Berman and Morrison visas, respectively, after the sponsoring congressmen. The Government of Ireland has actively supported the various lottery bills and similar legislation since their inception.
The Donnelly visa benefited "several thousand Irish" (almost 4,000) and the Berman visa had some 500 Irish beneficiaries. Under the three-year Morrison program (1992–94), by far the largest in size, those born in Ireland or Northern Ireland received a set-aside of 40% of all diversity visas, for a total of 48,000 set aside visas out of 120,000. Natives or citizens of Poland, via the sheer volume of applicants, received the second largest number of visas. The United Kingdom came in a distant third with some 6,000 visas in the Morrison program, the last in which natives of the United Kingdom or its territories (except Hong Kong and Northern Ireland) were eligible to participate.
The Immigration Act of 1990 was passed with bipartisan support and signed by President George H. W. Bush. The legislation established the current and permanent Diversity Visa (DV) program, where 55,000 immigrant visas (later reduced to 50,000) are available in an annual lottery. The lottery aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States, by selecting applicants mostly from countries with low numbers of immigrants to the United States in the previous five years. Starting in fiscal year 1999, 5,000 of the visas from the DV program are reserved for use by the NACARA program, so the number of immigrant visas available in the lottery was reduced to 50,000.
The first DV lottery, for fiscal year 1995, was named DV-1. For fiscal years 1996 to 1999, the name was in the format DV-YY, where YY was the last two digits of the year. Since fiscal year 2000 the lotteries have been named in the format DV-YYYY, with the full year number.The year in the name refers to the fiscal year when the immigrant visas will be given, which starts in October of the previous calendar year, and the entry period for the lottery occurs almost a year earlier. Therefore, there is a two-year difference between the lottery name and its entry period. For example, for DV-2017 (fiscal year starting in October 2016), the entry period was in 2015.
Initially, the DV lottery was administered entirely by mail, and only winners were notified. The entry form moved to an online system starting in DV-2005, but still only winners were notified, by mail. Starting in DV-2010, all applicants are able to verify online whether they were selected. Notification of winners also by mail continued until DV-2011, but since DV-2012 it is done exclusively online