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The East: Bulgarians Top U.S. Visa Lottery Winners

Washington, 12 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Bulgarians, followed by Romanians and Ukrainians, were the biggest beneficiaries of this year's U.S. visa lottery which gives them the chance to emigrate to America in 1998 ahead of millions of regular applicants.

The U.S. State Department said more than 5,400 Bulgarian nationals have been notified and can now apply for an immigrant visa.

Romanians ranked second, winning more than 4,300 of the U.S. immigrant visas that will be awarded eventually to qualifying applicants. Ukrainians were a close third with 4,280 visa slots and Russian nationals ranked fourth getting nearly 3,770 visa slots.

Winners in most other countries were counted in the hundreds or less.

The State Department said it received six million entries worldwide during the application period in February and March from people of more than 180 nationalities. More than a million of those entries were disqualified for not following directions properly.

A computer randomly selected a total of 100,000 winners and they have been notified that they can now apply for an immigrant visa. But only 55,000 permanent U.S. visas will be awarded.

The U.S. has invited nearly twice as many people to apply as it will choose because it expects some applicants to change their minds about emigrating or to fail to meet the eligibility requirements.

State Department spokesman James Foley said the winners should act quickly to follow the instructions in the notification letter and provide the necessary information and certificates to U.S. authorities because as soon as the total 55,000 visa slots is filled, the program will end.

Applicants who do not receive a visa by the end of September 1998 are no longer under consideration.

The annual visa lottery was mandated by the U.S. Congress in 1990 to diversify the ethnic composition of immigrants and give a fair chance to citizens of countries with low immigration rates to the United States.

For this reason, Poles were excluded from the 1998 lottery. But winners included citizens from all other Central and Southern European countries, as well as the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Applications for the next 1999 visa lottery will be accepted from October 24 to November 24 and the winners will be chosen next year.