The Green Card is the permission for unlimited residence and work in the USA. This unlimited visa was first introduced in the 1940s as “Alien Registration Receipt Card”. The first of these credit card sized IDs bore green writing and a greenish photo. Thus, the expression “Green Card” was coined and quickly became common. Meanwhile the Green Card has changed its color several times. For a while it had even been pink, since 1999 a light green shade is used again. More than 10 million foreigners are currently living in the U.S.A. on a Green Card.
The U.S. is proud to be country of immigrants. However, far more people are coming to the USA from certain countries than from others. Just those immigrating from Mexico, China and the Philippines are by far outnumbering those from most of the other countries accumulated. In order to maintain a diversity in the population, US laws regulate immigration from particular regions of the world.
For this reason the USA do annually distribute 55,000 GreenCards randomly since 1994 in the annual DVLottery. The only prerequisite apart from the eligible native country is a certain level of education. You can find detailed information under “requirements for participation in the dvlottery”.
Excluded from winning a Green Card are only those countries with a rate of immigrants to the USA far above average over the last five years (more than 50.000 per country). But it is possible that these excluded countries can participate again in coming years.
The Diversity Visa (DV) dvlottery Program is based on §201 to 204 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990. You can find the complete text here. The Immigration and Naturalization Service INS determines the eligible countries and application rules based on a calculation laid down in a law. These rules can change from year to year.
Since 1994 the program has already been executed three times in February, once in November and several times in October. The responsible institution changed in 2000. The formerly appointed National Visa Center in Portsmouth had to hand the processing over to the Kentucky Consular Center, which since then has been in charge for receipt and evaluation of the applications.
In the first year it was still possible to enter several applications per person into the DVLottery. This lead to a few persons applying hundreds of times and thus most probably receiving a Green Card. The effects were a completely overloaded institution and injustices in the distribution, as better off persons could file more applications. Since then each person is only entitled to submit one application per year and has to trust in Fortuna …
However, chances are still quite good: Since the U.S. government introduced electronic filing in 2003, the numbers of applicants have declined from formerly 13 million to only 5.9 million per year! It seems that the new procedures increase the chances for applicants who still try their luck in the new lottery DV-2017!
The congressionally mandated Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is administered on an annual basis by the Department of State and conducted under the terms of Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Section 131 of the Immigration Act of 1990 (Pub. L. 101-649) amended INA 203 to provide for a new class of immigrants known as "diversity immigrants" (DV immigrants). The Act makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
From the State Department: "Alien petitioners for the Diversity Visa Program will no longer be permitted to submit a petition by mail. Instead, the Department will require that all petitions be submitted to it in an electronic format, using an Internet website dedicated specifically to the submission and receipt of Diversity Visa."