For many people around the world, America is seen as a land of opportunity. A place where no matter where you come from, you have the chance to pursue a life full of endless possibilities. There are many arguments that can be made about the likelihood of actually achieving the illustrious ‘The American Dream’, but regardless, it has not deterred the many who enter the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery each year hoping that fate is on their side. In October of each year, approximately 14 million people apply for the chance to win one of 50,000 green cards. The odds of winning are so low, that most don’t think further then the application process and continue with their lives, but what if you actually did win?
In 2012, I was in New York finishing up the last of my internships as part of my theatre production degree and I had fallen in love with the beautiful, chaotic city. Hurricane Sandy had just finished wreaking havoc in New York and I was staying in an Airbnb that was right in the center of the no-power zone. In order to avoid the prospect of freezing cold showers in the middle of a New York winter, I had relocated to stay with my friend on the Upper West side, a fellow Australian and playwright, who had spent the last year in the city on a J-1 visa and was desperate to stay. A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to research scholars, professors and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange, especially to obtain medical or business training within the United States.
One night over wine, we both submitted applications for the 2014 DV Lottery and in 2013, I logged in to check my results and if you can believe it, I had won.
People often ask what happens if you win, and ignoring the lengthy introduction, the purpose of this article is to give insight into the process after you win the lottery. It is not as commonly know that although 50,000 visas are issued each year, initially over 125,000 people are selected as winners. This is to ensure that all places are filled, often applicants do not meet the eligibility requirements or choose not to pursue their application because of a change in their personal circumstances. When you log in to check your application status, you will be directed to a letter from the Department of State.
If you have won, you will be greeted with the following phrase “You have been randomly selected for further processing in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program”.
Here is a step-by-step guide of how to go from visa winner to green card holder:
Step One – Submit a Visa Application:
In your letter, you will be directed to Department of State website with a link to submit your DS-260 form. When I applied, this application was in paper form and it had to be mailed to the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC) but now the process has moved online. You will need your case number to access the application which is quite involved and plenty of time should be allocated to fill it in and to double check the accuracy of the information. If you are applying as a family, you will need the information of the primary applicant and all other family members. As part of the application, you will need to select a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for your interview. Once the application is completed, you will receive a confirmation which you need to print to bring to your interview.
Step Two – Prepare Your Supporting Documents:
While you wait to find out when your interview will be held, you should prepare all your supporting documentation. The main documents you will need are your birth certificate, proof of education (a high school diploma minimum is required) or work history (if you do not have a diploma) and copies of police reports from any countries you have resided in for more than six months. A complete list can be found on the Department of State website and a reminder that these documents should all be originals or certified copies.
Step Three – Interview is Scheduled / Medical Appointment:
You will receive an email for the KCC notifying you of your interview date at the consulate of your choice. In the meantime, you will need to complete a medical examination by an authorized physician. They will check that you have had all required vaccinations and take an x-ray of your chest. You will be given a sealed envelope by the doctor, which MUST NOT be opened, to take to the interview.
Step Four – The Interview:
On the day of your interview, be careful to follow all of the instructions supplied by the KCC. You must make sure that you arrive early with plenty of time to go through security and that you bring all of the documents, including two visa photographs, as listed on the Department of State website. You also must be prepared to pay the $330 application fee, which needs to be paid before you can proceed to the interview. You will be interviewed by a consular officer who will review all your documents and decide immediately if your visa has been approved.
Step Five – The Visa:
If you are approved, your passport will be taken by the consular official and you are free to leave. Your visa will be inserted into your passport and returned to you by mail, along with a sealed package for your entry. The visa takes a whole page of your passport, so make sure you have a page available when you go for your interview. Your visa will list an issue date and an expiration date, which is six months after your interview. You have until this expiration date to travel and apply for entry into the United States. You also need to pay your USCIS Immigrant Fee before you travel, which starts the process for your physical green card.
Step Six – Enter the United States:
When you arrive at the border of the U.S., the customs officer will review all of your documentation. Make sure you have your passport, sealed envelope, x-rays and any other required paperwork on your person. Please note that there is a possibility that you could still be denied entry at this point, especially if you don’t have the correct documentation. Once you are admitted, you a now a permanent resident of the United States. Your Green Card will now be processed and you can apply for a Social Security Card.
Step Seven – Live the Dream:
In 4 – 8 weeks, you will receive your Green Card and Social Security Card in the mail. You are officially now a Green Card holder and you can legally apply for work in the United States.
Now is your chance to see how you will succeed in the “Land of Opportunities.”
You may be one of the greats, or you might fail, but now you get to find out what ‘The American Dream” is all about. I, for one, am excited to be on this journey and am truly grateful that one fateful night in stormy New York, I took a shot at this incredible opportunity.