As many know, I now live in the US as a permanent resident due to being selected for the 2017 Diversity Visa (DV) lottery.
Despite what you might have heard over the last few years regarding those of us who enter the US under this class of visa (such as this), it is actually set up as an attempt to bolster rates of immigration from countries that have had historically lower rates of immigration into the US.
Those who are selected can move to the States with permanent residence status, otherwise known as a Green Card. This allows you to live and work in the US permanently, with the option to apply for citizenship after 5 years.
The lottery opens each year around early October (October 2nd this year) and closes about 5 weeks later in early November. The process for applying is pretty simple and shouldn’t take more than an hour or so of your time. The possible benefits for being selected are life changing though.
For me personally as someone in the software industry, moving to the San Francisco Bay area has opened opportunities that I never dreamed existed. Prior to being selected in the DV lottery, I had already started to feel limitations of working in a smaller Australian city such as my hometown of Newcastle. Moving to what most people see as the centre of the global tech scene was, and continues to be, an amazing journey and with countless opportunities, challenges and things to learn. For many industries, it’s likely you’ll find amazing possibilities in the US that you won’t find in Australia and I always encourage people to apply if the subject comes up.
The statistics around the numbers of applicants per country and those who are selected is made available from the Department of State. I originally looked into the DV lottery in mid 2014 and found that at the time, the ratio of applicants from Australia to the number who were selected was about roughly 10 to 1 (for the previous year there were 1035 visas issued from 11699 entrants). Pretty good odds (but I believe it has dropped in recent years).
For those who are keen to follow a similar path, the following is a bit of a run down of the process and a number of tips formed from my own experience.
.govdomain. If you’re not, you might be giving away personal information to someone who you likely don’t want knowing those details.
You need to supply the following information in the application. All pretty simple stuff that shouldn’t take too long to fill out:
The photo you supply is super important for a few different reasons.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, wasn’t hard work right?. The next step is waiting until about May the following year to see if you were selected.
Once the appropriate date comes around, you can check your entry status on the same site you originally used to enter the lottery. It’s as easy as entering your confirmation number, name and year of birth into the Status Check section, holding your breath and clicking the submit button. Hopefully after submitting the required information, you are redirected to a letter saying that you’ve been selected.
For me, I turned up to work at about 5:30am on the day they made the results available that year as I had a lot of work on. I started working, got a calendar reminder that I could check the status of my entry and without much excitement quickly checked as I was already engaged in what I was working on.
On opening the PDF, the world fell away as I read that I had been selected and that my life had just taken a very significant deviation from its current course. It was one of those moments where you realize your life can always change tremendously if you take risks and put yourself in the position receive things.
Hopefully it’s the same for you at some stage, but be warned, being selected is the easy part. Once selected you need to get through the application process which can take a bit of work.
Firstly, you will need to complete form DS-260. This is a pretty in depth document and will require you to collect a significant amount of information. There are specific instructions depending on what country you are migrating from but for Australia, a few examples of documentation that I needed to source and provide were:
You must get a specific medical exam done prior to your interview. My memory of this is hazy, but it took a few hours and covered a number of things.
Hopefully you get to this point. There are a number of things that you need to chase up, and I get the feeling a lot of people flake out before this stage as it can take a bit of work. You have a limit as to how much time is available to get everything sorted and to get your interview done so get on to everything as soon as you can if you are selected.
It may be different for you, but the interview for me was quite an anxiety filled day. Remember that you are basically entering US territory by visiting the Consulate so security is very tight and expect to be given quick, sharp, short directives from lots of different security personnel. Hot tip, only take exactly what you need. Laptops, phones etc are going to likely be taken off you. Don’t add the hassle of having to split the contents of your bag up just to get past security. It’s more stringent than getting on an international flight so go as simple as possible.
You’ll do a bit of waiting to be called and my interview was more a check off that all my information was in order. You get your finger prints scanned, a few times from memory, and after a while you’ll be free to go.
Just ensure you’re absolutely prepared and have absolutely everything you could need. Originals of everything and copies in triplicate. Don’t assume you won’t need anything, be prepared for anything.
I saw a number of people who had not brought required items and the stress of that situation looked terrible. You mess up the interview, you’re likely not going to get another bite of the cherry so get it 110% right the first time.
You provide a self addressed express post envelope during the interview which they will send you everything back in. From memory, my package arrived less than 2 weeks after the interview. It was impressively fast.
This returned package will contain any documents that they kept during the interview, your passport complete with a temporary I-551 visa, and a sealed envelope that you present to customs when entering the US for the first time.
At this point I had planned to return to Melbourne for a few months before making the trip to the US as I was completing a job but upon inspection of the visa, it only had a validity of 6 weeks. i.e. You need to enter the US within six weeks of receiving your passport back from the Consulate. Luckily, as I was living in a hostel in Melbourne and almost all my possessions where either in my camper or in storage I didn’t have much trouble making that deadline. Just a strong word of warning though, if you have a house, a rental or any other ongoing commitments, be prepared to drop everything and get stateside once that passport comes back.
To be honest, I was expecting to be taken to a room by customs, asked a number of questions and likely do further biometrics exams when I was entering the country the first time. When entering in customs I was packed with as much enthusiasm as I could be after a 14 hour overnight flight and was ready for spending a day going through further expected bureaucracy. I finally approached the desk, gave the customs officer my sealed envelope and passport and waited.
The officer ripped the seal off the envelope, took a look for no more than 2 seconds looked at my passport, and picked up his stamp.
Oh, the diversity lottery, congratulations. Welcome to the USA.
And with that stamped my passport and handed it back to me.
Is, um, that all?
Yep, you’re free to go!
And with that, I collected my bag and entered into the extremely empty and very surreal arrivals hall of SFO where I took half an hour to sit down and collect my thoughts. It’s an interesting feeling getting off a plane in what you are now calling your permanent home that you know very little about.
There are many varied challenges for new residents in the US which I’m planning on writing more about in future, but some of my main concerns where regarding my freedom to continue travelling.
You’re obviously able to leave the US and travel back to your home country after you have entered into the US the first time and your visa is stamped. After being stamped, it is valid for 1 year as a I-551 and on your first entry into the country, the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) will send you your real I-551 (Green Card) within 6 or so weeks. (It took me almost 18 months to get mine, but that is a topic for a different blog post). Your Green Card will be valid for 10 years.
If you leave the States for more than 6 months while holding a Green Card, expect to be questioned on the way back in when returning. More than 6 months abroad gives the indication that you are not permanently living in the US. If you spend more than a year out of the country without filling out paperwork prior, you may be denied reentry.
For citizenship, you need to have held your Green Card for a least 5 years, with more than half the time spent in the US.
Given these parameters, my plan was to do a 5 year endless summer between Australia and the US while working in remote roles. I was planning to have two campers, one in each country (and a third in Europe), but meeting my now wife somewhat changed that plan…
Summing up, the DV Lottery takes very little effort but can provide tremendous possible upside. It’s well worth the small amount of time and could possibly change your life forever.