US Diversity Visa Lottery Programming Problem: 22,000 Unhappy, 14.7 Million Happy about the Glitch

Last Friday, the US Department of State announced that the results of the 2012 Diversity Lottery were no longer valid, an AFP news article reported. A computer programming error had skewed the results to those registering for the lottery early, instead of selecting applicants randomly from across the full thirty-day registration period, the State Department stated on its Diversity Lottery web site.

The Diversity Lottery is part of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a congressionally mandated program that is administered on an annual basis by the State Department. The Department's web site states that the program "... provides for a class of immigrants known as 'diversity immigrants' ...  a maximum of 55,000 Diversity Visas (DVs) each fiscal year [which are] to be made available to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States."

In addition,

"The annual DV program makes visas available to persons meeting simple, but strict, eligibility requirements. A computer-generated, random lottery drawing chooses selectees for DVs. The visas are distributed among six geographic regions, with a greater number of visas going to regions with lower rates of immigration, and with no visas going to nationals of countries sending more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States over the period of the past five years. Within each region, no single country may receive more than seven percent of the available DVs in any one year."

Those winning immigration visas through the lottery don't need to have company sponsors or family members already residing in the US, which are usually the ways a non-US citizen gets an immigration card.

Some 90,000 US visa applicants are typically selected each year through the lottery. These winning applicants are then winnowed down to the 55,000 allowed through a series of interviews, background checks and medical exams, a Washington Post story says. This year, some 14.7 million applied to take part in the lottery, the AFP story reported.

The Post story says that the State Department noticed around May 5th that 90% of the winners of the visa lottery were selected from those who had registered during the first two days of the open registration period, which ran from October 5th to November 3rd last year. However, according to a Reuters story, by the time the error was discovered, 22,000 of the 90,000 winning applicants had already been notified that they had won.

As a result of what was described as a "computer programming error," the State Department decided to void the lottery results altogether since they were not random as required by US law and therefore, it concluded, the results were "unfair." The Department will now select a new group of lottery winners and announce the results by mid-July.

The State Department did not say why the programming error occurred, given that it has been running the visa lottery since 1995. It would be interesting to find out the reason for the error.

Obviously, there are 22,000 unhappy people and some 14. 7 million who were going to be unhappy but are now not. I wonder how many of the 22,000 will be two-time winners.

As one side note to this story, apparently the US visa lottery is a source of Internet scams outside of the US, including countries that are not eligible for the lottery.

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