The Washington Times - October 1, 2008, 04:09PM

About 55,000 foreign citizens will resettle in the United States thanks to the controversial – but still mandated by Congress – green-card lottery, which opens at noon Thursday.

The State Department, which administers the lottery, said that entries will be accepted until noon on Dec. 1 – only electronically at www.dvlottery.state.gov. The lottery’s official name is Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

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“Applicants are strongly encouraged not to wait until the last week of the registration period to enter,” the department said in a statement. “Heavy demand may result in website delays.”

Participation in the lottery is free, so think twice before paying a lawyer or another “expert” – and there are many of them in countries around the world offering the “service” of preparing your application. Your chances of winning are in no way better than if you make the entry yourself. The requirements are low and simple, and the online form you need to fill out is easy and user-friendly.

“A computer-generated, random lottery drawing chooses selectees for diversity visas,” the State Department said. “The visas are distributed among six geographic regions, with a greater number of visas going to regions with lower rates of immigration.”

After years of ineligibility, Russian citizens can apply again. Kosovo has been added to the list this year as a new country. The United States recognized its independence in February.

The countries not eligible this year are: Brazil, Canada, China (mainland), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Peru, Poland, South Korea, United Kingdom (excpet Northern Ireland) and Vietnam.

“For the first time, those who submit entries may check the status of entries online and determine whether their entries are selected or not selected,” the department said. “Successful entrants will continue to receive notification letters by mail.”

Those letters will be sent out next summer, and the winners will be able to move to the United States in 2010.

Nicholas Kralev, diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Times