The U.S. Department of State has announced the opening of the registration period for the DV-2017 Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Program. The DV Lottery Program enables foreign nationals to apply for permanent residence in the United States without employer or family sponsorship. The DV Lottery Program selects 50,000 people annually who can then pursue an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country or adjust their status in the U.S. through the Department of Homeland Security (if a foreign national is residing legally in a nonimmigrant status in the U.S. at the time of the application).

This year's program will again accept only electronic (online) applications. Both the application and the required accompanying photographs must be submitted in an acceptable electronic format. Failure to complete the form in its entirety will disqualify the applicant's entry. To be eligible in the lottery drawing, the application must be received between noon Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on Thursday, October 1, 2015, and noon EDT on Tuesday, November 3, 2015. Applicants must submit an Electronic Diversity Visa Entry Form (E-DV Entry Form or DS-5501), which is available only at www.dvlottery.state.gov. Importantly, there is no fee to enter the annual DV Lottery Program.

After you submit a complete entry, you will see a confirmation screen containing your name and a unique confirmation number. Print this confirmation screen for your records.

Applicants will be selected at random by computer from among all qualified entries. Starting May 3, 2016, you will be able to check the status of your entry by returning to www.dvlottery.state.gov, clicking on Entrant Status Check and entering your unique confirmation number and personal information. You must use Entrant Status Check to check if you have been selected for the DV-2017 lottery and to check your immigrant visa interview appointment date. The U.S. government will not inform you directly, nor will any notification letters sent out to registrants.

Persons born in the following countries are not eligible to participate, because the countries sent a total of more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the previous five years: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories and Vietnam.

Persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan are eligible.

To enter the lottery, an applicant must possess either a high school diploma (or its equivalent) or have two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires, at a minimum, two years of training or experience. Only one entry per person is permitted. Applicants should be aware that submitting more than one entry will disqualify all entries by the applicant. A husband and wife may each submit one entry, provided that each spouse meets the eligibility requirements. If either spouse is selected, the other will be entitled to derivative permanent resident status. Minor children under 21 will also secure derivative permanent resident status, should one of their parents be selected in the lottery.

The State Department strongly encourages individuals to complete the Entry Form themselves, without the help of a consultant, agent or facilitator. We warn individuals that there have been scams in place over the last few years by individuals and entities charging individuals to complete the application. There is no fee to register. If you have someone assist you with the entry form, be sure that you are present when the entry is prepared so that you can provide the correct answers to questions and retain the confirmation page and your unique confirmation number. Without your confirmation page and unique confirmation number, you will not be able to access the online system that will inform you of the status of your entry.

Caveat: If you have significant family wealth (over the 2015 exemption of $5,430,000 if single; $10,860,000 if married), or anticipate a large inheritance, you should plan for the potential U.S. federal estate and gift tax. The tax is 40% of the value of worldwide wealth in excess of the referenced exemptions. These taxes apply to lifetime gifts and transfers at death. In addition, once you become a green card holder or begin spending significant time physically present in the U.S., you must comply with U.S. federal income tax and reporting requirements. This means you will be taxed on your worldwide income and will be obliged to disclose certain foreign financial accounts.

Remember, the Electronic Diversity Visa Entry Form must be submitted during the period from October 1, 2015 to November 3, 2015.