The 22,316 people who believed they had won the US State Department's green card lottery – the global lottery that drew 19 million applicants seeking the right to immigrate to the US permanently – on Thursday lost an appeal to have the results of that lottery stand.
On May 19, the State Department announced that a computer glitch had made the results from the lottery invalid, and that a second would need to be held. The results of that second lottery, the State Department says, were posted to the website Friday.
For those who won the invalidated lottery, the news was devastating. Nearly 2 million applicants had already visited the results website by the time the error was discovered and the website taken down on May 5, and about one-fourth of the selected had learned of their selection.
Thirty-six individuals representing the “22,000 hopefuls” had filed a federal lawsuit urging the State Department to not void the lottery results. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit spoke of sharing the news with their children, quitting their jobs, selling land for money to immigrate, and marrying a loved one to make him or her eligible for immigration.
But a federal judge dismissed the case on Thursday, backing the State Department’s claim that the lottery results were not truly randomized, as the process mandates.
“The Court cannot order the Department of State to honor a botched process that did not satisfy that regulatory and statutory requirements" of randomization, wrote US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a 35-page ruling.
The department identified that 98 percent of the more than 22,000 selected had submitted their entries within the first two days of the application period in October 2010. The Department said this was the result of a computer glitch in a new randomizer program, which selected the winners in the order that they submitted their entries.
“There are 19 million more stories, from other lottery participants, many of which may be equally or even more compelling, and it is for that reason that Congress determined that every applicant would have an equal chance of winning the right to apply for the visa,” Judge Jackson wrote.
“The end result is that the American government has lost credibility – promising 22,000 individuals the right to proceed with the immigration process and then snatching away that hope and promise. The State Department may have won in court, but it has lost the hearts and minds of 22,000 individuals from all around the world.”
In the ruling, Jackson offers sympathy for “emotional impact” and “painful and real” experiences caused by the reversal of the lottery results.
“This is a highly coveted prize, as winners may ultimately qualify for US citizenship, and it provides a means of applying for a visa that does not depend upon sponsorship by an employer or a relative,” Jackson writes.
To qualify for a visa through the Diversity Visa Program Lottery, a person must have a high school diploma or equivalent, or two years of recent work experience that required two years of training or experience. The diversity visa is available to natives of countries with low-US immigrant numbers, such as Algeria, Lebanon, Thailand, Ukraine, and New Zealand. If more than 50,000 individuals immigrated from a single country within the past five years, people in those countries are ineligible for a diversity visa.
The State Department will select 100,000 lottery winners for 50,000 diversity-visa slots for the 2012 fiscal year. The reason the number selected is so much higher than the number of visas available is that many applications are found to be invalid upon closer inspection, and some winners choose not to continue the application process. Some qualified applicants could lose out, however, if their applications are not processed before the fiscal year closes or before all 50,000 visas are issued.