Government Promises, Then Voids 22,000 Green Cards

WASHINGTON -- Macedonian native Marianno Gorgeski found out he had been selected from 19.6 million applicants to receive a green card to move to the United States on May 1, a day he called among the greatest of his life. He and his fiancee quickly made plans to marry so they could move to the United States together. He notified his employer that he would be leaving, backed out of a lease on his apartment -- for a fee -- and sold his car.

But nearly two weeks later, the U.S. government voided the results of the 2012 Diversity Visa Lottery, rescinding green card promises for 22,000 people who desperately want to move to the United States.

"My mind simply didn't want to accept this," Gorgeski wrote in a letter to Change.org after a petition against the action was posted on the organization's website. "I was repeatedly saying, 'This is the U.S., the U.S. does not do things like this. When the U.S. makes a promise it will live up to the promise.' "

Legal immigration to the United States is notoriously difficult, with most green cards slated for family members of current residents or those already employed in the U.S. The Diversity Lottery, which grants about 50,000 visas per year to people from low-immigration countries, is the best hope many of the men and women have for getting into the United States.

Now, though, the applicants who were selected are back at square one and will not find out whether they have been selected in a second drawing until mid-July. The State Department said the selections were originally posted in error and were not a true random sampling of the nearly 20 million people who applied for the lottery between Oct. 5 and Nov. 3 of 2010.

More than 90 percent were chosen from the first days of the registration period, causing a "non-fair, nonrandom result," a State Department Official said in a briefing in May.

The agency has attempted damage control, contacting about 1.9 million applicants to the lottery who checked the website during the period the erroneous selections were posted, a State Department spokeswoman said.

All of those originally chosen are still eligible to win the lottery in July, when new, randomized results will be posted. But many of the 22,000 will not be selected for a second time.

"They say there will be a new selection process ... but I know it is not realistic to win again," Masako Yamao of Japan wrote to Change.org.

Several, like Gorgeski, left their jobs after reading on the Diversity Visa Lottery website they had been selected for green cards. The government advises that those selected to move forward begin quickly to make preparations to move to the United States, where they will need new homes and jobs.

"If I hadn't received the letter that I was selected, I would never have quit my job here, quit my house, bought plane tickets, spent money on getting pictures and sending them per express DHL to Kentucky," a man named Daniel, who was born in the Netherlands and lives in New Zealand, wrote to Change.org (He asked that his last name be omitted for future employment purposes). "People's whole lives were put on a rollercoaster, emotional as well as financial. This is just not right."

Despite pleading from those selected, the government will not give them priority for green cards in the future. Lawyer Kenneth White, in a letter to State Department Inspector General Harold Geisel, said the agency's actions were likely to cause waste and degradation of the United States' reputation abroad.

White advised the State Department to honor its commitments to the men and women who were initially selected, arguing the result could be considered random because it was not tampered with and no one knew at the outset that most results would be taken from the first few days of submissions.

Akaba Ajitum, one of the May lottery winners whose selection was voided, asked the U.S. government to consider accepting at least the men and women who had already acted on their green card selections.

"Put yourself in my shoes," Ajitum wrote. "Imagine the pain in the heart of someone in a country south of the Sahara, with very limited educational opportunities in the sciences, large scale corruption, favoritism, nepotism, the absence of democracy, poverty and agony, hunger and disease, and watching an opportunity to a better future passing you by."

Update, 7:35 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Marianno Gorgeski was a native Russian; he is actually a native Macedonian. The article has been updated to reflect the change.