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Diplomacy in Action

Senior State Department Official on the Diversity Visa Program

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Via Teleconference
May 13, 2011


NOTE: Conducted as a Background Briefing, this transcript was changed to on-the-record following posting of a videotaped statement at:

OPERATOR: Good morning and thank you for standing by. All lines will be in listen-only throughout the entire call. At the end, we will have a question-and-answer session. To ask a question at that time, press *, then 1. Today’s call is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.

Ms. Fulton, you may now begin.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Thank you. Good morning, everybody, and thanks for joining us on relatively short notice. We wanted to set up this call to talk about some developments with the 2010 Diversity Visa Lottery – 2011 --


MS. FULTON: Excuse me, the 2012 Diversity Lottery – Diversity Visa Lottery. I apologize.

Today, we have a speaker with us who is [Senior State Department Official]. But for purposes of the call, this is all going to be on background. We ask that you attribute comments to him as a Senior State Department Official. So I’m going to turn it over to him to make a statement, and then we’ll open it up for questions, okay? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Good morning. Thank you again for joining us today. Every year, the Diversity Visa Lottery generates excitement around the world as entrants hope to be selected for a chance to apply for an immigrant visa to the United States. The DV program is legislated by Congress. It started in 1994. It provides an opportunity for the United States to gain immigrants from underdeveloped countries[1].

From a standpoint of program entrants, it offers a chance to apply for immigration to the United States, even without a relative or employer to file the usual immigrant petition. For Fiscal Years* 2012, 50,000 Diversity Visas are available. For the past 15 years, the program has been completely electronic. The computer-generated random lottery drawing chooses selectees for Diversity Visas. For the 2012 program, a new computer program was used to run the selection, and it failed to run a random process. This is the first problem of this sort to occur in the 15 years of conducting the computer-aided drawing for the DV program.

This year, 19.6 million people entered the DV lottery, if you count both applicants and their eligible family members. Some of these people already logged on to our entry status check website to view this year’s selection results over a five-day period when the site opened on May 1st. Regrettably, the results that were previously posted on this website are not valid. They were posted in error. These results are not valid because they did not represent a fair, random selection of entrants as required by U.S. law.

Although we received a large number of entries every day during the 30-year – 30-day registration period, a computer programming error caused more than 90 percent of the selectees to come from the first days of the registration period. The computer error that caused this unfair, nonrandom result has since been corrected, and we sincerely regret any inconvenience or disappointment this problem might have caused.

Because this problem unfairly disadvantaged many Diversity Visa Lottery entrants, we will conduct a new random selection. The new selection will be based on the original entries. Entrants who submitted a qualified entry in 2010 between October 5 and November 3 do not need to reapply. In fact, no one can apply at this point for the 2012 Diversity Lottery Program. Their confirmation number to check the results on the website that they got when they made the registration are still valid.

We expect the results of the new selection process to be available on the DV entry status check website on or about July 15th, 2011. Again, we sincerely regret any inconvenience or disappointment this problem might have caused. Thank you. I can take your questions now.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Operator, let’s go ahead and open up the lines for questions.

OPERATOR: Once again, to ask a question, to press *, then 1. Arshad Mohammed, you may ask your question.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s Arshad Mohammed of Reuters. A couple of quick things to make sure I heard correctly: Am I correct in understanding that it is 50,000 visas that are made available through this program?


QUESTION: Okay. Second question: You said that 90 percent of the people erroneously selected for those visas came from the first – and I did not catch how many days. Two days, a few days of register – during the registration?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was during the first five days. We caught it during the first five days.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. So that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We opened it on May 1st and we realized it by, I think, May 5th, and we closed down the website at that time.

QUESTION: Right. No. I get that. What I didn’t get, though, is you told me that 90 – maybe I misunderstood, but that 90 percent of the people who were selected for the visas came from – I mean, in other words, can you explain again what is the nature of the erroneous result that you received at – because of the computer program glitch?



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hello, I’m sorry. Yes. I’m – 90 percent came from entries that were received by us on October 5th and 6th.

QUESTION: Got it. So, in the first two days of registration?


QUESTION: Okay. Great. And then how many people have been erroneously informed that they can apply for such a visa?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. We had about – in those five days when the site was open, we had about 1.9 million entrants access the site – or we don’t know if they were entrants – but 1.9 million entry – accesses to the site.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Of those, 22,000 – it indicated to them there was 22,000 of the entrants at their site which said that they were selected to go on to the next step, received the erroneous information that they were, in fact, selected.

QUESTION: Got it. And then – and clearly, none of those 22,000 – because you’re going to do a new drawing, all of those notifications were erroneous. None of those people will necessarily – it’s now – everything’s up in the air, and they have to wait until mid-July, correct?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s correct. They have – they are back as if we had not done the first selection, so they have the same chance to be selected as they did –

QUESTION: Originally.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- in the first selection. They have the same random chance so that –

QUESTION: Got it. And then --


QUESTION: And then last – two last things, please. One, how many people or how many entries are selected to go on to the next step? Is it 50,000 only or is it more than 50,000 on the assumption that some of those people won’t qualify?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s more than 50,000. It varies, but it’s quite a few more because we have – we want to net exactly what Congress allots. So our goal is to make sure that we issue all of them. Some do not apply, some do not qualify, and so we draw many more numbers than the 50,000.

QUESTION: About how many do you draw? A hundred thousand?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think this year it was around 90- or a hundred thousand, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the final question from me is: Why – given that this is all computerized, why do people – why is it going to take until July 15th to announce the results of the new lottery?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The main reason is that as part of the application process, you may only submit one application. So we – during the last six months since the first selection process, we have gone through all of the selectees to ensure that they had applied appropriately and that they had only applied once. We will now do that with the new selection group, but we are going to redouble our efforts to make sure we can do it in a shortened time, because our goal is to not have it affect the visa processing year which begins on October 1st, 2011. So we hope that we can – this will not have any impact on the processing of these visas, that we will process these as normal when we are permitted to start processing, which is not before October 1st, 2011.

QUESTION: Right. But it’s not a new selection group, because if I understood you correctly, these – precisely the same 19.6 million entries that will now be processed with the fixed computer program –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s correct, but we did not do the thorough vetting until we had selected out because that’s – obviously, that would be even that much more work to do 19 million. We select out randomly from those who submitted, and then we do a thorough vetting to say that they are fully qualified as far as their applications prior to notifying them that they can continue to qualify. So for example, if – to see if they apply twice, we don’t do that against the 19 million.

QUESTION: And do the 22,000 or so people who received indications that they were eligible to go on to the next step, have they been previously notified that – of this error? Or is your disclosure to us this morning the first time that they will know that they didn’t win, as it were, and there will be a redrawing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. This is the first time that this will be public. We are going to put a – information on our website, including the access to the – when they try to go to the access site, they will see that. But we are also looking for ways to notify those who had accessed the site, all of them, both those who were – found that they did – they were selected and those who weren’t selected to make them aware so that those who weren’t selected would know to continue to come back in July, and those who – as well as those who were selected to come back in July and see if perhaps they were selected again.

QUESTION: And was the third – was the computer program produced by a third-party vendor? If so, who? Or was it an internally developed government computer program? If it’s a third party vendor, what was their name, and do you intend to dismiss them given such an egregious error?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I believe it was an in-house error.

QUESTION: You believe or you know? I mean, either it was or it was --


QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much.


OPERATOR: Matthew Lee, you may ask your question.

QUESTION: Actually, Arshad answered my – asked my questions, most of them. But when did the entry period end? Was it October --


QUESTION: So from when to November 3rd?


QUESTION: October 5 to November 3. Okay. And do you have the actual number of – you said that more than 90 percent of the people who – of the selected numbers were from the first two days. Do you have an actual number?


QUESTION: Okay. So it’s 90 percent of how many entrees?


QUESTION: I’m sorry, how many – you said 19.6 million people entered or were (inaudible) –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: 19.6 million entered the lottery.

QUESTION: Is it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We selected out about – and I don’t have the exact number on this – 90,000 that we wanted to net 50,000 from. Of those, 90,000, over 90 percent were from Monday and Tuesday. I mean, I’m sorry, not Monday and Tuesday but the –

QUESTION: October 5.


MS. FULTON: October.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: October 5th and 6th. I’m sorry. October 5th and 6th.

QUESTION: And then the – you said that 19.6 million people entered but that’s not exactly right, is it? It’s – with families, that would include families who would have been eligible to come as well?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. In fact – yeah, it’s –

QUESTION: How many actual entrees though?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: 14.7 million entrants, and with their family members it’s 4.9 million family members to bring it up to 19.6.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. You said 20.7 million entrants. Is that correct?



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I said, entrance was 14.7.

QUESTION: Okay. So you actually got 14.7 million entrees?


QUESTION: And you select from that 90,000 –


QUESTION: – for 50,000 visas?


QUESTION: So in other words, if everyone had gone – if all the entrants had gone on and checked the results, 90,000 people – 90,000 entrees would have been – it would have said 90,000 of them were successful, correct?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s – no, no, no. I would have said that – yes, it would have said 90,000 were successful. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Okay. And then from – and then – and then in the process you winnow the – you winnow 40,000 out of that?


QUESTION: Fifty. Sorry. Well, I thought it was 50,000 visas were available.

MS. FULTON: In order to get 50, you winnow –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, we winnow out – yes. I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure what you were keeping – what you winnowed. But anyway, yes, we have 50,000 who would – you know, we hope – we would want to issue 50,000 visas and 40,000 would, for many reasons, not qualify, or if we ran out of numbers, which could happen also.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you – it’s Arshad Mohammed. I just wanted to follow up on one thing. Can you repeat the numbers? You said there 14.7 million entrees –


QUESTION: – and that adding in how many family members got you to the –


QUESTION: 4.9. Okay. Thank you.


QUESTION: Right. Thanks.


OPERATOR: Rosalind Jordan, you may ask your question.

QUESTION: A couple of clarifications. How many rounds are there, first, for applying for this visa? I understand that you go through the lottery, but then what happens after the second round? Is there a third round, and if so, why?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I guess I don’t understand. There is – the process is that during a time period, usually in the fall, people go online and can apply for the visa, and that’s where we get the entrants.

QUESTION: Okay. So that’s like entering the lottery to get into the process?



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And you have to follow very strict rules. They upload their photograph, there is a number of requirements, and you can go online and check that information. Then once they’ve submitted their application, that’s when we do our processing. And then we put online – people go online with a code that they received at the time that they did the registration, and they check through that PIN number whether they were selected or not. And that – we’ve done that all online because we’ve had problems in the past with fraud where people would keep the letters and then sell the letters to people so that they would be able to do it. So we’ve been trying to make sure that people could control this process themselves.

So then they go online, they check, and then over time they’re provided guidance on what they need to do to prepare for an interview, and then the interview can take place any time between October 1st, in this case on the 2012 lottery – any time between October 1st, 2011, and September 30th, 2012. By law, it’s like a Cinderella thing, on midnight on 2012 no DV 2012 – after midnight, no DV 2012 visas can be issued. So we have to issue all 50,000 within those 12 months.

And then the – the actual process is identical to any immigrant visa, whether you’re coming to join a family member or you’re coming to join a – for an employer. You have to prove all the things. We do all the security checks, we ensure that the person is eligible in any way, family members. But it’s the process, then, when you – once you get into the application process, is really exactly the same as all immigrant visas. They have to qualify, there’s no benefits provided under this program. They have to show that they won’t become a public charge in the United States, they have to get medical clearances. We do, again, long, extensive security clearances on all applicants.

QUESTION: Okay. And then for the people who were erroneously notified that they had been chosen to get into the application process, the interviews and what-have-you, are they going to be able to apply in – for next year’s selection program without any prejudice? Can they – because of the computer glitch, can they try again next year.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. Anyone who is from a qualifying country can apply any year. There’s no restriction on application from year to year, and each year it starts anew. That’s part of the reason for the excitement of the program in many of the countries is it – you can apply, and they also are still included in this year’s pool. They’ll be one of the 19 million that could be randomly selected in this year’s pool.

QUESTION: Okay. And then regarding the software program itself, can you spell out what the reasons were for revising the selection process, for revising the software? Was it something that IT people said, “We have what we think might be a better way of doing it.” And then a program was written with an error or was there some congressional mandate that said you need to tweak the selection program? What happened here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I think it was exactly what you said. We’ve been using the same program before. Our IT people suggested that they could do it this way, and someone made a programming error and that’s what happened. But there was – no, there was no mandate. I think it was just as you do; you’re always reviewing your systems and seeing if there’s a better way of doing this.

QUESTION: Were there any dry runs for the software since it’s – it was being rewritten? Was it tested before the program actually was brought online? Because I would imagine there are a lot of people out there who were thinking, oh, my goodness, I –


QUESTION: -- have a chance, and now I don’t have a chance and this is really nerve-wracking because there are people counting on me.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. We’re very – again, we really regret the frustration. We understand the frustration that people feel, and we can – we understand that. We do test all of our systems. I don’t know the details of what testing was done on this program. It was a small coding error that we have – we know exactly what the coding error was, but it’s just very unfortunate. And it was only afterwards that we were able to see that it was not truly random.

QUESTION: Okay. So then are you now going to be using the old software program?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, we’re going to use the new one with – correcting that coding error.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Mr. Mohammed, you may ask your question.

QUESTION: Yeah, just two things to follow up. Is any U.S. Government official – has any U.S. Government official been disciplined or being fired or suffering any consequences as a result of being responsible for this error? So that’s question number one.

And question number two, is it that 22,000 people were erroneously told that they were eligible for a visa – special visa program in the lottery? Or is it only that you had 22,000 accesses that might reflect more people because they were family members?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was 22,000 entrants, so it was based on the registration. So it could represent more family members.

QUESTION: So it’s not – just so we’re precise in our language –


QUESTION: Just so we’re precise in our language, you’re talking about entrees not entrants, correct?


QUESTION: Got it. Okay. Thank you. Okay, so it could be more than 22,000 people.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That would be impacted by this – yeah, family members.

QUESTION: Can you get us that number of the actual number of people?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know that we would know that. I don’t know – I mean, I don’t have that.

QUESTION: Well, but you need to come up with 50,000 out of the 90,000, so presumably there should be a way to know – to know that figure, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can check and see. I don’t know that – I don’t know that because I don’t have a figure. I can check and see if that’s something that can be derived.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. But in any case, if one asserts that more than 22,000 people were erroneously informed that would be correct, because it will certainly have been – there will be at least one case among the 22,000 that reflects more than one person, correct?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: If you mean that – I went in and checked and I found out that I had been selected, and I have a spouse – so that if you mean that that means two people, yes. That’s correct.

QUESTION: And then the last question and this is really for Heide or Mark if he’s on the call rather than you, sir. Is there some reason why this cannot be on the record? I realize that --

MS. FULTON: Arshad, I’m glad you asked that question. Actually, what we’ve done is – you filmed that, right?


MS. FULTON: Yeah. [Senior State Department Official] filmed an announcement that is going to be posted to a little later this morning. It’ll be up there by 11:00. It may be up a little bit prior to that. We’re trying to get it up as soon as we can – in which he essentially makes the points that he made at the top of this call, and that would be on the record, attributable. But unfortunately, it’s not up on the website yet. We’re trying to get it up as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Well, here’s my question, and it’s a question that a number of news organizations are routinely posed by our readership, and which is: Why do we grant anonymity to officials when there is no compelling reason to do so? And in this case, given that the briefer, who I’m not identifying, is going to, as you said, have a video explaining this to the world available on the internet, I don’t understand what compelling policy or other reason there can be for keeping this on background. It seems to me to be – I mean, maybe you could argue you’re trying to spare the briefer embarrassment, and I’m sympathetic to that, but if the briefer is going to do a video online, I don’t understand how that argument can apply.

MS. FULTON: Right. I understand that, Arshad, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that we were trying to get this information to you as quickly as possible, so rather than waiting until it was made publicly available and, therefore, attributable and on-the-record, we were getting it to you earlier. I understand your question.

QUESTION: Right. I mean, you’ve given us all the – I mean, I don't see – for the record, I see no policy reason for this. All right. Well, for the record, I mean it’s just – I, and I suspect others, would have preferred this all to be on the record --

MS. FULTON: I take your point.

QUESTION: -- because we see – I see no compelling policy or other reason why this should not be. So, anyway, thank you for doing the call.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Thank you.


OPERATOR: Rosalind Jordan, you may ask your question.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on Arshad’s point: If the video is going to be out in just under an hour from now, is everything that we report between now and then on background? Does it then become on the record as of 11:00 Eastern time?

MS. FULTON: This call was still lined up to be on background, and then the video announcement will obviously be on the record, because that’ll be available on the web and be fully attributable.

QUESTION: But there’s no reason why – I mean, if it’s from the same person, there’s no reason why the information we have can’t essentially be embargoed until 11:00 Eastern time?

MS. FULTON: Yeah. I mean, that was essentially what we were trying to do. It’s going to be all publicly available and fully attributable on the – when it’s posted to the website. But in an effort to get the information to you so that you could begin preparing your reporting, that’s why we set up this background call ahead of time.


MS. FULTON: Okay. Are there any other questions?

OPERATOR: There are no further questions at this time.

MS. FULTON: Okay. Thank you very much for joining us this morning, appreciate it.

[1] under represented countries

PRN: 2011/746

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