WASHINGTON - Jackpot! Not so fast.
For a few joyful days, more than 20,000 people around the world thought they had hit the lottery and won a chance to come and live legally in the United States. Oops, the State Department said Friday, we had computer problems and have to run the annual visa lottery again.
The decision reopens competition for 50,000 wild-card visas for people who otherwise would have little hope of qualifying. About 15 million had applied, so it's good news for many people who thought they had lost.
But the glitch, which the State Department blamed on an in-house programming error, dashes the hopes of people like Max, a 28-year-old German man. He had recently checked a department website and found what he'd hoped for: Out of a random drawing with overwhelmingly long odds, he was one of the lucky few who might get one of the visas.
"It's like you won $100,000, and then they just take it away," said Max, who would give only his last name for fear that full identification might jeopardize his application chances.
The drawing was established in 1994 to increase the number of immigrants from the developing world and from nations with traditionally low rates of immigration to America. Applicants do not have to have the usual family or employer sponsor.
The State Department apologized.