174 Indian nationals, who have been stuck in India since mid-March, file a lawsuit in Washington.
A group of H-1B and H-4 visa holders stranded in India since the onset of Covid-19 in the country has filed a lawsuit to force the Department of State to arrive at a decision on their visa petitions.
The suit, filed at the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday night by Wasden Banias on behalf of 174 Indian nationals, including 7 children, also challenged a proclamation issued by President Donald Trump on June 22 that prevents them from returning to the United States.
As the American Bazaar reported in May, more than a thousand H-1B visa holders are stranded in India, unable to get their visas stamped on passport and return home to the U.S. as all five U.S. missions in India remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One such H-1B visa holder, Rajiv Mehta (name changed at his request), a tech professional working for a Connecticut company now stuck at his New Delhi home, told the American Bazaar, “These are taxpaying, law-abiding people who have been holding jobs for a long-time in the U.S. but had to travel to India for family emergencies, or visa renewals.”
“The sudden closure of consulates has left them stranded and in jeopardy, as they are not able to return to their jobs, minor children and, spouses,” said Mehta.
In Tuesday’s lawsuit, the plaintiffs asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to compel the state department to issue decisions on their pending requests for H-1B and H-4 visas.
Among the officials named in the suit are Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.
Wasden Banias, LLC, is an immigration litigation law firm based in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, specializing in immigration-related issues, such as H-1B visa claims and renewals. In this case, the firm challenged President Donald Trump’s recently issued Proclamation 10052.
Trump issued the proclamation on June 22, 2020, prohibiting the entry of any foreign national on H-1B, L, H-2B and J temporary visas to the United States until at least December 31, 2020, deeming their entry to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
The proclamation pointed out that the entry of foreign nationals presents a risk to the US labor market amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result of the proclamation, the more than 1,000 H-1B visa holders awaiting visa renewals and stampings in India will not be able to return even if the U.S. missions re-open in the next few weeks. The embassy in New Delhi and four consulates in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai have been closed since mid-March because of Covid-19.
Unless they prevail in the litigation, plaintiffs cannot return until the end of the year at the very earliest.
Among those stuck include many who have family emergencies back home in the U.S., such as pregnant spouses, infants, and children with medical conditions that require frequent hospital visits.
The litigants asked the court to force the Department of State to decide on their pending H-1B and H-4 visa requests.
The lawsuit also asked the court to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from refusing the entry of the plaintiffs to the United States. It also asked Judge Jackson to strike Trump’s June 22 proclamation’s “restriction on issuing new H-1B or H-4 visas or admitting new H-1B or H-4 visa holders.”
The plaintiffs cited that many of the people affected by the proclamation are dependants, such as minors and family members on H-4 visas, who are not allowed to work in the United States.
In an interview with Forbes, Jonathan Wasden, an attorney and co-founder of the firm, said “It’s overly broad… It targets a lot of people who aren’t even working.” As a result, many of those impacted by the ban could never pose a threat to the US job market in the first place.
Talking to the American Bazaar on Wednesday, the litigants were hopeful and anxious of the judge’s impending ruling.
“We are happy to be represented by Wasden Banias and can now only hope that the Judge sees and understands the irreparable harm all of us have and are going through. We are nervous and are eagerly waiting for the judge’s ruling,” Zaheer Iqbal, one of the plaintiffs, told the Bazaar.
Another litigant, Poorva Dixit, said, “I am so nervous about our case until the result is out.”
For now, that result might still be months way. Prominent immigration attorney Nandini Nair, a Partner at Greenspoon Marder LLP, said it might not be until September or October before the court arrives at a decision.
However, Nair noted that this was an important first step. “As people become aware of this litigation, [it will] really show how impactful this ban is on foreign workers [and] foreign talent,” she said.
Joe Biden vows to lift Trump’s H-1B ban if elected (July 1, 2020)
USCIS: Nearly 600,000 H-1B visa holders working in the US (June 29, 2020)