Dozens of people who were mistakenly told they had won a spot to apply for a U.S. visa through the annual visa lottery system are suing the federal government.
French native Armande Gil is a psychologist in Miami who is among those seeking class action status in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Washington. Gil said she spent time and money preparing for her new life and was devastated to learn it was just a bureaucratic snafu. She and others want to be reinstated as lottery winners.
"The decision of the Department of State has created a lot of stress for me financially, psychologically and practically," she said Tuesday. "I thought I was finally in the process to get work permit and residency, and everything tumbles down."
Roughly 22,000 individuals were told in early May they'd been selected through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, whereby foreign nationals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States can apply for up to 55,000 available visas. But two weeks later immigration officials announced the selection was skewed due to a computer glitch and the initial round was invalid. Instead of selecting the candidates randomly, nearly all were chosen from those who filed on the first two days of the application process.
A new lottery is set for July 15, and those from the first round will be eligible. They must still go through security and other background checks, but those who qualify are generally accepted.
Gil's attorney, Kenneth White, maintains the U.S. government broke a public and written commitment to the applicants.
"There are thousands of specific events that can only begin to explain the pain this has caused - individuals leaving jobs, turning down job offers, selling possessions including cars, cancelling long-term residential lease arrangements, getting married, collectively spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in courier and postal costs to file applications, undertaking medical examinations, undergoing vaccinations, returning to home countries - all on the strength of the in-writing notification made by the U.S. Government," he wrote in the lawsuit.
White added that the incident would damage the U.S government's credibility abroad.
Heide Bronke Fulton, a State Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday the department was aware of the "potential" for a lawsuit but could not confirm if the case had actually been filed and would not comment on potential or pending litigation. She said the department had no choice but to invalidate the initial results and hold a redrawing because the first lottery had not been random as required by law.
"Reliance on these non-random results would have unfairly disadvantaged many lottery entrants," Fulton said.
Gil, 42, said she initially came to the United States 13 years ago to complete a master's degree at the University of Texas. After receiving a doctorate degree from the University of Georgia, she said she most recently trained at the University of Miami in neuropsychology. When her student visa ran out, it became impossible to adjust her status _ or find work.
"In my situation, this is the only way," she said. "For many, many professionals, if you don't make an arranged marriage to a citizen, it is impossible. The system doesn't let you be legally a resident. There are many professionals who want to contribute and can't."
White said the immigrants include Ivy League graduates, engineers, doctors and economics researchers, and they hail from more than 20 countries including Cameroon, France, Iran, Japan, Nepal, Russia and Yemen.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.