WASHINGTON — US officials revealed Friday they had canceled an annual visa lottery for citizens of poor nations, after a computer program failed to make a random selection among some 20 million applicants.
"Regrettably, the results that were previously posted on this website are not valid, they were posted in error," a State Department official said, referring to the http://dvlottery.state.gov/ website.
"They did not represent a fair, random selection of entrants as required by US law," he added.
Some 22,000 people, who had already been told that they could go ahead and apply for a coveted visa, have now been told that the results have been voided.
"We sincerely regret any inconvenience or disappointment," the official, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
Set up in 1994, the annual Diversity Immigrant Visa program gives workers from poor countries the chance to travel to the United States on a work visa even if they do not have any relatives or an employer in the country.
The lottery is carried out by an electronic random selection among the millions of applications received every year.
For 2012, at least 100,000 hopefuls were due to be chosen out of the 14.7 million applications, comprising a total of 19.6 million people when family members are included.
The 100,000 then have the right to apply for one of the 50,000 visas which are ultimately granted, with authorities leaving room for those who drop out of the process, or are rejected by immigration officials.
"For the 2012 program, a new computer program was used to run the selection, and it failed to run a random process," the official said. "A computer programming error caused more than 90 percent of the selectees to come from the first two days of the registration period."
A new lottery will now take place from among those who have already applied, and the results will be published around July 15.
The State Department cannot even blame the error on an outside contractor since the computer program was developed "in-house."
On the website a message in red informed all hopefuls: "We are experiencing technical difficulties at this time."
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