Iranian-born businessman Naeim Karimi spent his lunchtime glued to his computer station at his Toronto office on Tuesday.
He wanted to be among the first to enter the so-called U.S. Green Card Lottery, which began taking applications at noon.
Karimi has already entered the lottery unsuccessfully three times, but he said Tuesday that he felt his luck had finally turned.
“It’s been a lucky past few months,” he said. “I graduated from university. I got married. I found a job. And I’m thinking, you know, maybe good luck comes in fours rather than in threes.”
Each year, millions across the globe hope for a chance to win permanent residency in the U.S. by entering their names into the U.S. State Department’s Diversity Visa program, the official name of the so-called lottery.
The program is designed to bring immigrants into the U.S. from countries that have been historically underrepresented in terms of U.S. immigration, so nationals from countries with high immigration are not eligible to enter.
Among the countries not eligible this year are Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Columbia, Haiti, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The 2014 lottery, which began Tuesday, allows natives of Guatemala to enter the lottery for the first time. Nearly eight million people applied to the Green Card lottery last year, and just as many could enter this time.
Lottery entrants are vying for only 50,000 slots chosen randomly by a computer, as well as 5,000 more visas allocated by Congress to Nicaraguan nationals.
During a press briefing in Washington, Bureau of Consular Affairs spokesperson Karin King said the Diversity Visa program has been conducted entirely online since 2012.
She encouraged applicants to be proactive about monitoring their applications themselves and to be vigilant if using third parties to enter the lottery.
“Unscrupulous visa facilitators have been known to assist entrants with their entries and then retain the confirmation page and demand extra money in exchange for the information,” said Ms. King.
“We have tried to set a system where the applicant can do everything on his or her own and doesn’t need to go through a facilitator or pay any money at all in order to apply,” she continued.
For many entrants, the lottery is a shot at a relatively easy, fast and cheap path towards a new life as a U.S. resident.
Roozbeh Mazhari, a TV anchor at the Voice of America’s Persian-language service, won the lottery in 1999 while doing mandatory military service in his native Iran.
“When I got home and I had papers that I was able to leave the country I partied, like, for seven days. And 12 years after that, I’m so glad that I got a green card. It’s dramatically changed my life.”
The U.S. Diversity Visa Web site can be found at www.dvlottery.state.gov.
The application window for the 2014 lottery closes at noon on Saturday, Nov. 3.
Naeim Karimi and millions of other hopeful applicants like him can begin checking the Web site May 1 to see if they have been selected.