Between October 1 and November 1, the US State Department throws open a website where anyone of eligible nationality can apply. There’s a web form to fill out with your basic information, contact details, parental heritage (as questionable as it may be) and whatnot. Once you submit, you’re given a confirmation number and are told to check back in six months’ time. So, y’know, just around the corner.
After that, you can basically set an alarm for yourself for May 1 at 12:00pm ET. In my case, this was 2:00am on a Thursday Brisbane time. You go back to the same website you applied at, punch in your confirmation number and essentially get a yes or no answer. Whether or not you get selected is entirely by chance – that’s the lottery part of the deal.
It’s also entirely your responsibility to check your entry; you don’t get an email or a letter in the post saying you’ve been selected for further processing. If you get the green light to further your case, but you forget or neglect to check your number after May 1, then stiff shit. You miss out. That’s not to say though that you’re not allowed to proceed if you remember in September and check then to find out you’re through. The Department of State pulls way more numbers out of the hat than there are available green cards, to accommodate for people who forget to check, change their mind or decide not to go through with it for whatever reason. In the 2014 lottery (my year), there were 125,000 selectees for 50,000 visas. The odds aren’t bad once you get through to the second round.
In any case, after you see that official letterhead on your computer screen telling you you’ve been “randomly selected for further processing in the Diversity Immigrant Visa program”, the real fun begins. You’re assigned a case number which indicates your region and year of entry. The lower your case number (within your region), the earlier you get to interview for a green card and the better chance you have of getting a visa. Each month the State Department publishes a case number cut-off for two months in advance, so if your number falls below that cut-off then you’ll shortly be notified about your interview date.
But don’t get too excited just yet. There’s a stack of paperwork for you to fill out, all of which can be found on the US State Department website. You’ve got the DSP-122 and the DS-0230 (parts I and II), which require a stack of information. You also need US-sized passport photos (2in by 2in) and a copy of the acceptance letter that gave you the good news in the first place. You whack them all into an Express Post envelope (so you can track it) and chuck it in the mail to the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC), which is where all these applications are processed.
Then the waiting begins. Because KCC processes so many friggin’ applications, you might not get confirmation that they’ve received your extremely important, unique, special post pack. Emailing them might elicit a response, it might not. Calling them is generally the best bet, but of course that’s an international phone call so buyer beware.
For God’s sake, get on with it
Alright, alright. Tough crowd. Anyway, the meticulously filled-out forms are only half of the battle. You’ve still got to meet all the requirements, provide plenty of paperwork as evidence that you do meet them, and go through an interview at your nearest US consulate to back all that up.
Interviews run from October to September at US consulates around the world. My “local” was in Sydney, which meant having to fly there for the interview. No biggie. Since I had a low case number (304 out of all Oceania), I was in line for an early interview. I just missed the cut-off for October (300) so I knew I’d be on for November. Others with higher numbers weren’t so lucky. While you wait, it’s helpful to start collecting your evidence documentation. Everyone’s base documents are the same – passport, birth certificate, proof of high school education – but depending on your age, marital status, military careers, blah blah blah, you might need extra stuff. The full list is here. Basically though you just need a minimum grade 12 education, not be a complete piece of shit criminal and be physically (and mentally, I’m assuming) healthy.
I was a pretty simple case: legally single, never changed a name, no kids, no prison time, no military service, no wuckin’ furries mate! All I took was my birth certificate, passport, high school and university transcripts, my medical examination results and police record checks.
The two latter pieces of evidence are where the cost starts coming into it. One must undergo blood tests for immunization records, chest X-rays for tuberculosis and a full turn-your-head-and-cough examination. Mine cost me $465, and another $15 on top because I didn’t have the latest flu vaccination. There are only a few doctors in Australia authorized to do the visa medicals (look here for the list); you can’t just rock up at your GP and ask for the test, so if you live in a city not staffed by one of those medicos, you’ll have to fly to one. See what I mean about costs adding up? After a few days you’ll receive a sealed envelope of results and a big old chest X-ray that you’ll need when you have your interview.
The other expensive one is the national police check. You can do this at any police station for a fee. There’s some conjecture as to whether you need to go the whole hog and do a fingerprint check or not, but I figured I’d rather have too much information than not enough. Of course, the fingerprint option is considerably more expensive ($180 in Queensland). On top of that, you need a police check for everywhere you’ve lived for longer than six months since you turned 16. For me that wasn’t an issue but I know a lot of people who’ve lived in a heap of states and countries. That ain’t cheap.
The medical and police checks also have expiry dates, so the consulates tell you not to organize them until you’ve got your interview scheduled so they don’t run out of validity. After all that expense, all you can do is sit back and wait for your case number to fit under the cut-off…