Since 1990, the United States has granted up to 50,000 green cards each year to immigrants selected through the “Diversity Visa Lottery.”  Recently, the US Department of State announced delays in processing these cases due to COVID-19.  This development further exacerbates challenges caused by COVID-19, including the temporary suspension of visa appointments and USCIS in-person services, which we reported on last month, and the April 22 Executive Order halting immigrant visa admissions for 60 days.  See our analysis of the Order here.

What is the Diversity Visa Lottery?

The Diversity Visa Lottery, also known as the “Diversity Visa Program” or the “DV Lottery,” is not a large part of the US immigration system, but it is a unique one.  According to Homeland Security statistics, more than 800,000 green cards were issued in 2018 to employment- and family-based immigrants.  Compared to that number, the 50,000 green cards allocated to DV immigrants is relatively small.  However, unlike those categories, the DV Lottery does not require that potential immigrants have pre-existing employment or family ties to the United States, only that they:

  • Be born in an eligible country; i.e., one that has not historically sent large numbers of immigrants to the United States; and
  • Have a high school education or its equivalent.

State Department statistics report that more than 10 million individuals enter the lottery in most years.

What impact will COVID-19 have on this year’s DV Lottery?

For applicants in the Diversity Visa Lottery, timing is of utmost importance, more so than for any other green card category.  In most other categories, applicants have a wait before they can submit their green card applications, but they have no deadline to do so.  By contrast, DV Lottery applicants must complete the entire process before October 1 of the calendar year in which they were selected, or they are no longer eligible.  Because October 1 is the beginning of the government’s fiscal year, that date also marks the start of a new DV Lottery Program.  The program is open for new entrants only one month per year, and applicants must not only complete and submit their applications for immigrant visas or adjustment of status before October 1, but also receive approvals for those applications before October 1.

In light of that tight timeline, any fluctuation in government processing can have a major impact.  This year, with USCIS offices temporarily closed to the public, consulates worldwide temporarily not processing visas, and the President temporarily halting immigrant visa admissions, DV applications for FY2020 may not be processed within the fiscal year, as required.

Will COVID-19 have an impact on next year’s Lottery also?

Next year’s lottery, for FY2021, may also be affected.

On April 27, 2020, the Department of State announced it was reallocating resources that would normally be focused on reviewing FY2021 DV entrants to the agency’s COVID-19 response, delaying the opening of the FY2021 Lottery, and thereby shortening the overall program, by at least 30 days.

Should COVID-19 closures and delays be extended into summer 2020, DV Lottery entrants for both FY2020 and FY 2021 may lose their chance for a green card.