Irish join in suit after diversity visa snafu

A class action suit has been filed against the U.S. Department of State following a mix-up over diversity visas.

More than 20,000 diversity visa applicants worldwide, including a number in Ireland, received letters notifying them that they had successfully secured a visa only to be subsequently told that it was a mistake.

The State Department blamed the snafu on a computer glitch.

However, the apology and correction has not mollified applicants and a California based law firm is going to court with the support of frustrated applicants, one of them being Lisburn, County Antrim native Stuart McBrien who contacted the Echo after being told his initial acceptance was not valid.

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In a statement, the law firm of White & Associates, which is acting pro bono in the case, said the legal action was based on the principle that "our word is our bond."

"In this case our Government has let these individuals down. They have broken a public and written commitment to 22,000 friends of America," attorney Kenneth White said in a statement.

"Real people have had their dreams unfairly shattered, and as a result, the public image of the U.S. as a fair and honorable country has been damaged around the world," said White, whose firm is based in Los Angeles.

The class action suit has been filed against the State Department in the District Court for the District of Columbia and, according to a release, is "seeking to reinstate a commitment first made, then broken, to 22,000 would-be legal and rule-abiding immigrants to the United States.

"The blunder, for which fault is already admitted by the State Department, saw 22,000 individuals who were proceeding down a legal route to immigrate to the United States through the Diversity Visa Program, have their applications cancelled."

"This situation represents an affront to those who live up to their word and expect their government to do the same. It can, and must, be corrected," said attorney white.

McBrien, a management consultant currently based in London, said he had followed the rules and had applied for a diversity visa in October 2010.

"I was not expecting to win, just hoping. But I received a winning notification from the State Department through their web-page in early May. But by mid-May the results had been cancelled," he said.

"Winning was a real dream come true. My wife and I were so excited at this great opportunity, we immediately began making plans. We valued and appreciated this amazing opportunity and were determined to make a success of it. We had our forms filled in and sent to the State Department within a week," said McBrien, who hold and Irish passport and was thus eligible to apply for a diversity visa.

Of the cancellation notice McBrien said: "I couldn't believe this news, how any government could write a letter making such a commitment, then take it away? The feeling was one of bitter disappointment.

"It was apparent from the U.S. government statement that no-one was accused of cheating or doing anything wrong - so based on that, how can they justify taking this opportunity away from rule-abiding applicants? If the tables were turned, we strongly felt that the Irish government would not break such a commitment made to U.S. citizens."

50,000 diversity visas are distributed annually to citizens of qualifying nations. Irish passport holders in both Northern Ireland and the Republic are eligible to apply. British passport holders are not because Britain exceeds the number of annual immigrants below which is deemed possible to apply for a diversity visa.

The scheme is open to a global pool, so the number of successful Irish applicants each year is only a tiny percentage of the visas given out.

McBrien, then, would have been one of only a small number of Irish applicants - probably only a couple of hundred at most - who received a letter informing him of success, only to have the letter rescinded.