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GAME OF CHANCE

Four highly unlikely things that are more likely than scoring an American “diversity visa”

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This post has been corrected.

If you’re looking for inroads to become a US resident, this little-known fact may come as good news: The US State Department offers a diversity visa, which opened its 2016 lottery today. Each year, it gives 50,000 non-US residents with certain diversity-boosting qualifications a green card.

The terms are pretty specific. For one thing, only people from countries whose citizens generally aren’t interested in coming to the US may apply. So, tough luck for China (with the exception of Hong Kong and Taiwan), South Korea, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the UK. Also, you need to have (pdf) at least a high school diploma (or the equivalent of one) or have had at least two years of work experience in the past five years, and that work experience must follow two years of relevant training or experience.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people want in, which makes the odds of actually scoring one of these green cards pretty slim. Last year, for instance, there were over nine million applicants from 190 qualifying countries. From that, the State Department randomly chose 125,514 people in a lottery to apply for 50,000 green cards, which are distributed by region. No more than 7% of a region’s visas can come from a single country, which makes the odds of winning a visa from some countries less likely than others.

For some perspective, here are a few things that have similar odds (this assumes everyone who was selected to apply for a visa did, and takes into consideration that selected applicants from one country cannot exceed 7%):

  • If you’re from Kyrgyzstan, you have a slightly higher chance of being on a plane with a drunken pilot than getting a visa.
  • Applicants from Qatar and Norway have about the same odds of getting a green card as they have of finding a four-leaf clover.
  • There’s a greater chance that the US’s social security system will accidentally mark you as dead than for applicants in Liechtenstein, Belize, the Maldives, and Laos to get the visa.
  • Those from Seychelles, Paraguay, and Swaziland have a higher chance of dying by choking (pdf) from inhalation or eating than getting the visa.

Correction, Oct. 3, 2014: The original version of this post misstated the number of people that the State Department people chose by lottery as eligible to apply for diversity visas. The correct number is 125,514.

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