People are often confused about how the case numbers are assigned and where they are in “the list” to get one of the elusive 50,000 Green Cards. To answer that properly it is worth explaining the lottery process itself.

There is an entry period of around one month, typically in October of each year. During that time people from all over the world will enter as there is no cost to entering the lottery and it is a pretty simple process.

Between the end of the entry period and the announcement in the following May, the “winners” and (selectees) are chosen. The process is like this.

Entries are sorted into their respective regions, Africa, Europe, Asia, South America and Oceania. The rules say that there should be an equal chance of winning within each region. There is a target of the number of selectees that will be chosen. The actual chance at this point is affected therefore by the number of entries a given region receives, compare to the number of selectees that will be picked for the first stage.

So – let’s look at some examples.

Let’s say that Africa receives 5 million entries (each entry can be for a single person or can include derivatives). It might be decided to pick 100,000 entries for the initial stage. That would mean a 2% chance of getting to that stage (100,000/5,000,000*100). Another region might have a higher percentage chance of winning per entry but get far fewer entries.

This is probably best explained by looking at some real data from 2013. The reason to use 2013 data is because that is the latest year that we currently have complete data – both entries and selectees.

So – first of all take a look at how many entries each country in the OC region had. I used official entry data and official selectee data.


Because the published selectee data includes derivatives (family members) I use a formula to calculate the family selectees and then use that to calculate how many cases were picked from the entries (because the lottery is per entry, not per derivative).

OK so now we can see that in 2013 the region as a whole enjoyed a 5.9% chance of winning a place as a selectee. I have shown the resulting chances per country but as I stated before the actual chance of winning is the same across the whole region (mandated by law).  There are variations of course such as Nauru which appears to have had a winning chance of greater than 10%. However, what really happened is just coincidental – they seem to have got 9 cases selected, rather than the 5 cases they would have expected. That is due to the nature of a random draw – nothing to get worked up about!

OK, how about a larger region for the same year – let’s take AF region.


Now there is something to get excited about! I have highlighted four countries than have unusually low winning chances and enormous number of entries. If the draw is “fair” then Nigeria (which has 1.35 million entries!) should have around 13 times the number of winners than Algeria (with about 100k entries). They don’t – so what is going on?

Well the answer is that during the draw process, an artificial limit is imposed (in some way) on the four countries who would otherwise have received a huge portion of the overall selectee count. The last line shows that the four limited countries had 70% of the entries for the region but only received  40% of the selectees. So – they are being limited, for sure. In DV2013 and DV2014 this limit was around 6000 selectees per country (including family).  In DV2015 they have lowered the limit to 5000.

So what impact does that limiting have on the process?

Well for applicants from the limited countries it means they have a lot less chance of being selected than people in other countries within the region. I cannot find where that result is supported by law, but I suppose the justification would be the 7% country limit. However, only one country (Nepal) has a realistic chance (high probability in actual fact) of hitting the 7% limit with 5000 selectees in DV2015. The four limited African countries were unable to hit the 7% limit even with >6000 selectees in DV2013 and DV2014 due to low response and success rates.

In addition the strategy of limiting countries creates holes and a concentration of selectees from the limited countries to the lower case numbers. To understand why, it is helpful to understand the draw process.

How is the draw performed.

The draw itself is a multi step process – the steps being:-

  1. Separate the entries into their regions
  2. A computer randomly orders every case for each region, assigning a region specific rank number (case number). This would start at 1 for the highest ranked entry and continue right down to the very last entry (which is why we have leading zeros on our case numbers). So a number could be be like 2015AF00021123. The numbers are consecutive at this point, with no gaps between case numbers. The numbering is region specific so just as my example if for an AF number, that same number could exist in different regions (for example 2015EU00021123, and 2015AS00021123). Remember, each case represents a single selectee and their derivatives.
  3. Next there are steps applied to identify and remove fraudulent entries. This is done by photo biometric matching processes, database searches on the names and other information within the entries. Those entries removed create gaps or “holes” in the numbers. These holes are randomly distributed throughout  the number range. We often discuss the “density” of the cases versus holes. If a lot of fraud within a region, then the density of the cases will be low.
  4. The next step is to decide the selectees that will be notified. A computer process takes the entries in rank number order, keeping a count for each country as well as an overall count. There seems to be a count on the individual selectees and also one on the derivatives for each selected case. At some point a country will reach a point where it will be limited. From that point onward the process will knock out further entries for that country. Again this produces holes after the point that a country maxes out, and of course, this means the density of real cases will be lower in higher case number ranges (at least in AS, EU and AF regions which each have limited countries).
  5. Once enough selectees are chosen for the region, the selection process stops and they are ready to notify the selectees.

The above steps have been deduced from reading publicly available information and also apply a bit of common sense.

I hope than de-mystifies the process somewhat.

Update July 12, 2019 – I am including a link for this video that explains that process in a simplified way.

The data shown above is available for download here.

OC 2013 Data

AF 2013 Data