I received my Green Card in the mail the other day.
People don’t really believe me when I say I won it at the lottery.
Either because they don’t know the lottery is real, or because it sounds plain crazy with under a 2% chance of winning.
I’ve been asked a few times to tell the story of how I got it, and since it’s a long answer, I decided to make a post about it.
And if you’re wondering what happened to me during the blog hiatus, the answers are also here.
A few cryptic tidbits were posted during the past year and a half (linked throughout this very post), and they will all be explained here.
It’s like Lost, only with an actual payoff and answers (and no retcon).
I’ve been talking about visas for some time (ever since the blog began actually).
I made a two-parter breakdown of the visa and green card opportunities for international writers out there. I talked about how to register to the DV Lottery (opened from October to December).
If you’re not really aware of what the Diversity Visa lottery is, it’s “a United States congressionally-mandated lottery program for receiving a United States Permanent Resident Card.”
Around 50,000 of those are delivered each year out of 13 million applications.
Here’s what happened to me.
On October 2, I decide to send in my application for the DV-2010 lottery.
The process is pretty straight-forward at first (online forms to fill out); although the specific photo ID they asked for was a pain to do.
To participate you do need to have a certain education level, and be a native of one of the qualifying countries.
Yes, what is taken into account is where you were born, not your nationality.
As you might have guessed, some countries are blacklisted (China anyone?).
Russia has only been eligible since, well, last year.
What’s interesting to note is that Brits cannot enter the national lottery, so I had to play my French side.
Once the app is sent, there’s not much you can do except hibernate.
If you’re selected, you’ll get an actual notification letter from the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC), from where the lottery program is administered.
Over seven months later, on May 29, I receive a large white envelope containing a bunch of papers to fill and send back as soon as possible (with yet again a bunch of new photo IDs to do).
It looks like I’ve won. Can it be true?
It’s also at this point that you get assigned your Case Number. From it, you can guess when you’ll have your embassy interview (within a month or two).
This is of course assuming you’re “really” selected.
Indeed, even though you just received the notification letter, it is actually the first of two.
Not only that, but since a lot of potential DV winners don’t answer back, about 100,000 people receive this first notification letter (twice the amount of actual Green Cards delivered).
First come first serve basis at this point, so time is key.
The people chosen to receive the letters are randomly chosen (obviously their applications must fit the guidelines), although the amount of letters per continent and country changes every year based on the previous lottery’s stats. This is made to even things out.
I chose to fill my form on the computer and then reprint it.
Only, the thing is: there is no letter-size paper here (it’s all A4). So I had to quickly find some US paper (which I did at some cost).
Once I had my brand new pictures and the forms printed out, I sent it back as quickly as I could, meaning less than a week later (June 4).
On June 11, I get the confirmation the KCC received my first notification letter.
Yet again, the waiting game continues.
I get word three months later the KCC sent my second notification letter around August 25.
I receive it on September 5.
This letter informs you of a few things, but is mainly there to prepare you for the upcoming American embassy interview.
First, you need to gather a lot of documents. And by a lot, I mean basically your whole life.
On my part, I had to find, among other things, my birth and police certificates, bank statements proving a certain level of income, and evidence of the required education.
There’s also the small matter of your health.
Yes, you need to go to a certified doctor that tests you for all kinds of things, such as AIDS (you can’t immigrate to the States if you’re sick). And it’s expensive.
The doc appointment also needs to be done only a few days prior to the embassy.
Once over, you’re given a sealed envelope that will later be opened during the interview.
Speaking of, mine was scheduled for October 8 at 1PM.
I arrive early only to wait hours sitting inside the embassy with all my papers in order (no clue how many trees I killed with all the photocopies).
The whole place is über-secured with people talking at counters behind bullet-proof 2-inch-thick glass. No cellphones or any electronic devices are allowed inside. So you’re basically waiting doing nothing.
I’m finally called, but before I can even begin the interview process, I have to pay, a lot (almost a grand!).
Indeed, although the lottery itself is free, if you’re selected and go through the embassy interview, you must pay a fee, with no actual guarantees you’ll get a green card at the end.
Once done, my whole application (and my whole life) is reviewed bit by bit in front of my eyes.
Sometimes I’m also asked some questions about my past and what I want to do in the States.
It’s like a pop quiz, only it’s not a good grade you want.
At this point, they’re looking for reasons why not to give you the green card.
When you’re done being stressed out, and they’re done stressing you out, you hand over your passport.
They said I’d receive it back in a few days with (or without) a visa stamped on it.
Sure enough, on October 16, I receive a package containing my passport… with the (for now) temporary visa.
Holy hell, I really won.
But this is still not over, since I must now go to the States to process it in the following six months.
Also in the package is a sealed envelope containing all my documents and medical results, to be opened by a specific immigrant agent upon arrival.
And that’s around when I went into a blog hiatus.
Paperwork takes time.
On January 20, I embark upon a magical life-changing journey…
Well, not really. That’s more what’s coming this summer.
This was more of a 6-day recon mission, in New York.
Although short, I was able during my NYC stay to go on the Colbert Report.
So anyways, back to my arrival.
So I’m at JFK, and it’s time to get processed…like everyone else who just arrived.
After waiting what feels like (yet again) hours in the queue, I arrive at the immigration desk. The agent, turns out, doesn’t have the authority to open the sealed envelope, so he accompanies me all the away to the other side into the immigration office.
There, a Jack Bauer lookalike opens the envelope, and, once again, reviews the whole application from start to finish.
This is it.
He takes my finger prints, and then stamps the passport/visa.
It’s official: my visa has been processed!
I open my mail.
In one of the letters is a laminated plastic card.
And I realize it’s true.
I’ve won a Green Card.